Marketing research: Olympics and sportswear brands in China

The Link Between the Olympics and Chinese Sportswear Brands

It is indisputable that the Olympic Games provide vast potential gains for sportswear brands worldwide because of the publicity the sportswear brand receives during the globally watched sporting event.

Especially, as China has been performing exceptionally in consecutive Olympic Games and is expected to continue to excel in coming games, there is tremendous opportunity of podium exposure for sportswear manufacturers by medal-winning Chinese athletes. Facing such a great opportunity, it seems that almost all of the sportswear brands want a share.

The Olympics and International Sportswear Brands

Nike, leading apparel brand holding 1% of Chinese apparel market, sponsors Chinese athletes in many events including archery, basketball and wrestling.

  • Nike has individual deals with Liu Xiang, famous hurdler who caused controversy at the Beijing 2008 Olympics after withdrawing from his race despite being a favorite to win a gold medal
  • Nike sponsors basketball star Yi Jianlian, who is very popular and has large fan base in China
  • Nike supports Li Na, winner of the 2011 French Open tennis championship

Adidas, the largest global rival of Nike, signed up as an official Olympic partner in a deal costing £100 million, according to a recent market research study in China.

  • adidas sponsors Zou Shiming, a gold-medal winning boxer at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
  • adidas supports basketball player Wang Zhizhi, popular and active player in China.

The Olympics and Chinese Sportswear Brands

Li Ning, one of China’s most recognized sportswear brands, sponsored the Chinese diving, gymnastics, badminton and other teams in the 2012 London Olympics

  • Li Ning provides support for Jamaican sprinter Asafa Powel
  • Li Ning sponsors American triple jumper Christian Taylor

Anta, headquartered in Fujian, also endorsed its products during the London Olympics and overtook Li Ning as the largest market share holder in China

  • Anta provided podium wear for Chinese medal winners at the London Olympics.

The Impact of the Olympics on International Sportswear Brands

Both Nike and Adidas have been making strong headway in the Chinese sportswear market, gaining market share over the review period and making life more difficult for domestic brands. Chinese consumers’ preference for foreign brands, due to their perception that foreign brands offer more reliability and better quality, also applies to the sportswear industry. The brand equity of Nike and Adidas were strengthened by their involvement in the Chinese Olympic campaign.

The Impact of the Olympics on Local Sportswear Brands

Li Ning, Anta and other larger local brands involved in the Olympics opened thousands of stores across China between 2008 and 2011. Today, there is an estimated 11,000 total domestic sportswear stores in the country. However, Li Ning did not find it easy to continue its success in 2012 due to its increased prices and ambitious shifting of brand position in order to compete with foreign brands. Unlike Li Ning, Anta seems to still be growing in the Chinese sportswear market.

Overseas Strategy of Local Sportswear Brands

Chinese brands hoping to upgrade their overseas profile see plenty of opportunity in gaining exposure through the Olympics. Li Ning announced that it had enjoyed about 600% increase in daily internet traffic since its soft launch late last year.

Future Trends of the Olympics and Sportswear Brands in China

Although it is undeniable that sportswear manufacturers are taking the Olympics as a great opportunity to market their products and receive global exposure, the long-term impact of advertising through the Olympics seems to be overestimated. Olympic sponsorship provides a boost to sales, yet it is unlikely that this marketing technique will provide significant long-term gains.

Daxue China consulting (focus group chinamystery shopping china)

Our report on the licensed sports merchandise market in China: