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Winter sports brands in China’s post-winter olympics era

Although the curtain has closed on the Winter Olympics era in China, the winter sports market continues to flourish. A fierce competition has emerged between domestic and foreign winter sports brands in the post-Winter Olympics era. This rivalry highlights the crucial role of effective marketing strategies in captivating consumer attention and fostering brand success within this dynamic landscape. Brands are investing significant amounts to stand out in China’s ski and snowboard market, even setting up installations in the flat-city of Shanghai, hundreds of miles away from the country’s major ski resorts.

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The amount of investment brands are making to create a nationwide image is substantial, as the Chinese are eager to invest in this new, but expensive, frontier of sports. This trend raises questions about what drives the massive rise of winter sports in China. What is Chinese people’s view on them and which winter sports brands in China handle the sudden surge in popularity of those sports better: domestic or foreign?

The winter sports market in China is thriving since the 2022 Winter Olympics

The winter sports market in China has witnessed significant growth in recent years, driven by a combination of government initiatives, increasing disposable income, and Beijing’s successful bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Government efforts to promote winter sports through infrastructure investment have expanded accessibility and participation across various demographics. Moreover, urbanization and changing lifestyles have led to a surge in demand for recreational activities, including skiing, snowboarding, and ice skating, contributing to the market’s expansion.

According to a statistical survey in 2022 released by the General Administration of Sport of China, titled “Driving 300 Million People to Participate in Winter Sports,” between Beijing’s successful bid for the Winter Olympics in 2015 and October 2021, the number of participants in winter sports nationwide reached 346 million, with a participation rate among residents of 24.56%.

China’s winter sports development research report indicates that in 2022, the output value of winter sports in China will reach RMB 800 billion, and by 2025, it will reach RMB 1 trillion, accounting for one-fifth of the entire sports industry’s total output value in China.

Analyzing by age group, the participation rate and number of participants in winter sports decreases with age. Among them, the participation rate of residents aged 18-30 is the highest at 37.27%, with 82 million participants; while residents aged 60 and above have the lowest participation rate at 13.09%, with 33 million participants. Therefore, businesses aiming to capitalize on the increasing popularity of winter sports should primarily target millennials and Gen Z consumers, who show the most interest in these activities. With the rising demand for winter sports, both domestic and international winter sports brands in China have the opportunity to capitalize on this growth and access a previously untapped market.

Graph Source: iimedia, designed by Daxue Consulting, 2020-2025 market size of the winter sports market in China

Winter sports surge on Chinese social media ahead of the 14th National Winter Games

Winter sports, particularly the 14th National Winter Games (十四冬), have gained significant traction on Chinese social media platforms, with over 270 million views on Weibo as of March 7, 2024. This event marks the first major national winter sports competition in China after the Beijing Winter Olympics. With a comprehensive setup mirroring the Milan Winter Olympics, featuring 8 major events, 16 sub-events, and 176 smaller categories, the 14th National Winter Games plays a crucial role in enhancing China’s international competitiveness in athletic sports, and promoting the sustainable development of winter sports.

Online discussions not only revolve around the competitions and athletes but also reflect a surge in public enthusiasm for winter sports, indicating a growing influence on the populace’s sporting interests.

Image source: Xiaohongshu, the number of notes related to both skiing and snowboarding has reached 4 million on Xiaohongshu as of February 22, 2024.

Foreign winter sports brands in China redefine their image through exclusive venues

Among the leading brands in related categories, The North Face is a typical case of successfully adapting to this trend and seizing the opportunity to achieve an all-around leap in brand image.

For example, in 2022, the collaboration between The North Face and KAWS, featuring a limited-time pop-up store in the -20℃ temperatures of Changbai Mountain, presented a unique marketing strategy aimed at capturing consumer attention and generating buzz around both brands. The choice of Changbai Mountain, known for its pristine natural beauty and challenging terrain, further emphasizes the rugged and resilient nature of the brand’s products.

Image source: Weibo, the collaboration between The North Face and KAWS featured a limited-time pop-up store in Changbai Mountain

By choosing such an extreme and unconventional location, the collaboration seeks to create an experiential and adventurous atmosphere, aligning with the outdoor and exploration ethos of the brand. The social media buzz was substantial, with the hashtag #北面KAWS# (The North Face X KAWS) reaching over 98.5 million reads on Weibo by February 19, 2024.

Additionally, events like the “URBAN RIDE street skiing challenge” in 2023 in Shanghai further showcase The North Face’s innovation. By creating a temporary snowscape in an urban setting and hosting renowned street skaters and international athletes, the brand successfully combines adventure with urban culture. This multifaceted strategy, spanning extreme outdoor locations and urban environments, reflects The North Face’s flexibility in setting up unique venues to communicate the brand’s values, ethos, and product quality, contributing to strengthening brand loyalty and attracting new customers. 

Image source: Xiaohongshu, Chinese netizens praised the skiing campaign hosted by The North Face in Shanghai

The similar marketing campaigns employed by foreign winter sports brands in China, such as Fendi and Burberry, in popular Chinese ski destinations like Changbai Mountain and Songhua Lake Resort, showcase a trend of immersive and experiential strategies.

Fendi, for instance, established a temporary café, “FENDI CAFE,” at the summit of Wanda Ski Resort in Changbai Mountain, where consumers can enjoy a drink while also having the opportunity to purchase ski products such as goggles and snowboards.

Similarly, Burberry adopts a distinctive approach by setting up a large tent-like pop-up boutique in Songhua Lake Ski Resort, offering not only a curated selection of its goods but also leisure options like coffee and popsicles.

Image source: Weibo, both Fendi and Burberry implemented immersive marketing strategies at popular Chinese ski destinations

These initiatives coming from winter sports brands in China aim to engage consumers unconventionally and memorably, blending the brand’s identity with the natural beauty and recreational aspects of the chosen locations. This trend underscores a movement towards crafting brand encounters that engage multiple senses and deliver experiential moments, aiming to make a lasting impression on consumers.

Chinese winter sports brands compete with foreign brands through KOL marketing dominance on social media

According to iiMedia Research survey data, skiing ranks as the most favoured winter sport among ice and snow sports enthusiasts, with 44.9% of respondents participating in skiing and snowboarding (N=1,644). From January 2022 to January 2023, the market size of the skiing and snowboarding category on Taobao and Tmall has reached RMB 1.877 billion, with a year-on-year growth of as high as 120.3%.

Furthermore, in winter sports, the safety awareness of young people continues to strengthen. Taking skiing protective gear as an example, sales in December 2023 increased by 15 times compared to the same period in 2022, leading among various ice and snow consumer goods.

Image source: Xiaohongshu, Some skiing protective gear from Chinese brands, including Overide, Goski, and Antspro

While ski resorts are bustling, a new wave of consumer goods including hardshell jackets, and action cameras have also emerged, alongside an unexpected rise in the popularity of energy drinks, due to the increased physical activity and cold weather conditions experienced by visitors. On the Dewu app, sales of hardshell jackets in December 2023 increased nearly 3 times compared with the same period in 2022.

Image source: Xiaohongshu, the current mainstream Chinese brands offering hardshell jackets

As skiing gains popularity as a winter sport, numerous domestic brands are increasingly venturing into the competitive skiing track, with a primary focus on KOL marketing on social media platforms. For instance, Bosideng strategically chose Gu Ailing (Eileen Gu) as their brand ambassador.

Gu Ailing, a popular figure in the Chinese media landscape, has garnered significant attention for her achievements in freestyle skiing. Her appearance in Bosideng’s latest products featured in authoritative fashion publications such as Vogue and Elle, along with the announcement of Bosideng’s global recognition with the “Top Ten Design Innovation Gold Award” at the French NDA Design Awards, solidified the brand’s position in the realm of fashion and design. Leveraging the curiosity and anticipation of the public, a high-profile launch event further amplified the brand’s visibility.

Image source: digitaling, Gu Ailing in Bosideng for VOGUE and ELLE

With the presence of Chinese celebrities like Yang Ying, the event attracted widespread attention on social media. Endorsements from industry insiders and international designers at the event further enhanced the brand’s credibility. Post-show, celebrities like Zheng Xiuyan and Wei Tian, the fashion editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar China and executive editor of MiniBAZAAR, took to their personal social media platforms to endorse Bosideng’s new products, contributing valuable promotional material.

Additionally, Bosideng swiftly ignited a frenzy of sales across various circles by leveraging the endorsement power of influencers such as Fan Chengcheng and Qiao Xin, alongside hundreds of other influencers continuously promoting the product through platforms including Weibo, WeChat, Xiaohongshu, and Douyin. By employing a comprehensive KOL marketing strategy, the brand’s initiative to “redefine lightweight down jackets” achieved extensive coverage across all platforms, with topic-related traffic (#重新定义轻薄羽绒服#) reaching 640 million on Weibo as of February 22, 2024.

Which brands are approaching the marketing better, Chinese or foreign?

The competition between domestic and foreign winter sports brands unfolds against the backdrop of a burgeoning market fueled by post-2022 Winter Olympics enthusiasm. Both sides demonstrate innovative approaches to capture consumer attention and loyalty.

Foreign brands, such as The North Face, Fendi, and Burberry, leverage immersive and experiential marketing strategies, creating unique venues that blend their brand identity with the natural beauty of popular ski destinations. This approach has proven effective in engaging consumers and reinforcing brand values.

On the other hand, Chinese brands, like Bosideng, embrace KOL marketing on social media platforms, enlisting popular figures such as Gu Ailing to amplify their reach and influence. The success of Bosideng’s comprehensive KOL marketing strategy is evident in the extensive coverage and online visibility it achieved.

Ultimately, the competition is dynamic, and success lies in a brand’s ability to adapt, whether through immersive experiences or strategic social media partnerships, as both domestic and foreign brands play integral roles in shaping China’s evolving winter sports landscape.

What do you need to know about winter sports brands in China?

  • The winter sports market in China is experiencing unprecedented growth, becoming a thriving arena where both local and international brands strive to capture the attention and loyalty of an increasingly engaged consumer base.
  • Chinese social media witnessed a surge in winter sports discussions, driven by the anticipation of the 14th National Winter Games, the first major national competition since the Beijing Winter Olympics, with over 53.1 million views on Weibo.
  • Foreign winter sports brands in China invest significantly in creating unique venues for their marketing efforts, aiming to engage consumers in immersive and memorable experiences that blend the brand’s identity with the natural beauty and recreational aspects of the chosen locations.
  • Chinese winter sports brands compete with foreign brands by leveraging KOL marketing dominance on social media, as evidenced by Bosideng’s strategic selection of Gu Ailing as their brand ambassador, as well as celebrities like Zheng Xiuyan and Wei Tian, ultimately driving extensive sales and achieving remarkable online visibility.
  • Dynamic competition in China’s winter sports market demands adaptive strategies, including immersive experiences and social media partnerships, for both domestic and foreign brands.

We can guide you in the winter sports market in China

We are experts in market research and know all the ins and outs needed to succeed in China, whether you’re a new entrant, or you’re aiming to expand your presence in the country. At Daxue Consulting, we offer a range of market research and strategy consulting services.

If you’re looking to enter the market of winter apparel, or equipment or are working on a winter sports campaign, we’re offering our extensive experience and know-how to kick-start or audit your project.

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