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Australian sport chiefs head to Shanghai in bid to crack Chinese market

Gold Coast Suns and Port Adelaide Power play in front of a sign saying Shanghai 2017.
The Gold Coast Suns vs Port Adelaide Power match in Shanghai was hailed a success.

AAP: Tracey Nearmy

A group of Australian sport executives are meeting in Shanghai to make an unprecedented bid to collectively crack the Chinese market.

Key points:

  • Heads of Australian sports bodies will meet with with Chinese representatives
  • Port Adelaide's match in Shanghai attracted new sponsors
  • Experts warn the Chinese market is difficult to tap

The heads of Tennis Australia and the National Basketball League, along with senior figures from the AFL and other codes, are meeting Chinese sports industry representatives over a two-day "summit".

The move comes five months after the AFL held a premiership points match in Shanghai, which helped generate new Chinese sponsors for the club driving the China push, Port Adelaide.

In a sign of further Australian engagement with China, Tennis Australia is expected to announce several new Chinese sponsorship partners this week.

"The focus for us is how do you engage consumers on a more regular basis outside of the [Shanghai] game," said David Stevenson, the China general manager for the AFL.

"We want to expose them to our season all the way through, we want to introduce them to our women's league."

The AFL game in May generated huge media interest in Australia and gave the league the chance to show off junior development programs it has been conducting in 15 schools in China's south.

But other Australian sporting bodies have been making quiet inroads.

NBL games are now shown live on Chinese online platforms and, despite receiving less media fanfare, Melbourne United successfully played an exhibition match in Nanjing just days after the AFL's Shanghai clash.

"There is a direct opportunity for Chinese sponsors wanting to get some exposure in China and Australia", said Jeremy Loeliger, the CEO of the NBL.

"Having our product shown live in China for every game is also important to our Australian sponsors wanting to access the Chinese market."

Market already saturated with foreign codes, some say

Attracting Chinese sponsorship to Australian clubs and leagues is a priority across different sports, but experts warn China's massive potential is hard to tap.

"The majority of Chinese companies really are looking inwards," said Zhe Ji, the sports marketing director of Red Lantern Digital Media — a company that promotes overseas sports in China.

"When they sponsor a foreign team or tournament, they're showing people back home that they're sponsoring someone foreign.

"They're not really doing it to get their brand out because for most of them, the domestic market is more important.

"So if the league or teams have big exposure in China, if they're on Chinese sports channels, then I think the Chinese brands would be more interested."

The US-based National Basketball Association, along with various European football leagues, have had the most success reaching Chinese audiences and sponsors.

And despite the massive size of the market, some Chinese-based sports business figures believe it is already saturated with enough foreign codes.

"The biggest challenge is to get teenagers and kids to understand and really love these sports", John Yan, a Beijing-based football entrepreneur, said.

"With their limited time and energy, I'm not sure how much Chinese teenagers could invest themselves into new sports."