The recent Australian Open final brought tennis to the forefront once again and reinforced tennis powerhouse Li Na’s national sports hero status.
Tennis in China has been growing rapidly and is one of the most popular sports in the country after association football (soccer) and basketball.
The Chinese government estimates the number of people playing tennis regularly as 12 million; the number may not seem much if held against the total population of 1.3 billion. Nonetheless, the estimate is high enough to account for a market opportunity of significant proportions.
To be sure, the numbers will be more formidable to come. According to China Central Television, even apart from the drawing power of a world-class player like Li Na, tennis has become one of the fastest-growing sports. The Chinese government aims for 15 percent every year. The nation’s tennis market has reached $4 billion annually, according to Tom Cannon, a professor and sports finance expert at the University of Liverpool Management School in England.
New courts have sprung up in Beijing and the city currently houses over 2,000 tennis clubs; and many Chinese parents are enrolling their children in tennis courses.
As the numbers of tennis players rise, so will the lucrative potential of brands that can ride the tennis tsunami.
So do we easily assume it is the elite overseas sports brands who will dominate this market? The assumption, if not false, is facile. China does not embrace all brands from the West.
Besides, a survey shows that, when Chinese consumers were asked to rate preferences for the top 100 brands, over half those brands chosen were domestic. As might be suspected, brands like Coca-Cola and Carrefour made the top most desired brands, but so did brands such as Master Kong, Huiyuan and Tencent QQ.
And here’s another captivating observation: Don’t be surprised to find the tennis marketing opportunity bidirectional. China embraces Western brands, but is also looking to bring its domestic brands international.
To be sure, tennis star Jelena Jancovic made headlines when she signed with China-based sportswear company, Anta, in 2009. She was the number-one ranked player in the world when she signed.