With a sudden rise in winter sports infrastructure, the winter sports market in China has officially taken off, surpassing 300 million Chinese participants in January 2022. Chinese consumers’ interest in winter sports is greatly aligned with the promotion of winter sports and the construction of ski resorts by the Chinese government. Since 2015, officials like President Xi JinPing have pledged to increase engagement in winter sports in preparation for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. Despite being a late entrant to the winter sports industry, China has built over 800 ski resorts and 650 skating rinks with increased funding for the development of the ice and snow sports industry forecast to hit RMB 1 trillion by 2025 (USD 157.2 billion). Consumers who are interested in the growing popularity of winter sports are mostly in the millennials and Gen Z age groups, whom businesses must actively target. With the driving demand for winter sports, domestic and foreign winter sports brands in China can leverage this growth and tap into a brand-new market.
How Chinese winter sports brands compete with foreign brands
Chinese winter sports brands in China with a direct connection to the Olympics have a better position to market their sportswear and equipment for Chinese consumers. For example, in 2017, Anta officially signed a contract to become the sportswear partner for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. With the expected success of the global sporting event, Anta boosted its profile with an RMB 31.8 billion (USD 5 billion) acquisition of Amer Sports in 2019. Amer Sports is the leading Finnish sportswear company with internationally well-known brands such as Atomic ski equipment, Salomon ski boots, Peak Performance, and more. A few years ago, and to this day, Anta foresaw that this opportunity would allow them to expand into the upcoming winter sports and outdoor brand market.
In March 2021, Anta launched its “Keep Moving” campaign in collaboration with freestyle skier, Eileen Gu, who has just won her first gold medal at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. The marketing campaign appealed to many Chinese women, empowering them to build self-confidence in sports. That same year, Anta opened “Snow Land,” an interactive exhibition in Shanghai’s TX Huaihai and Wanda Plaza that gave local new-coming consumers a taste of experiencing winter activities.
Anta is not the only sportswear company that is delving into the winter sports market. China’s leading sports apparel brand, Li-Ning, recently released its first snowboard sportswear series for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. The new collection, which has just become available on February 4, is a mix of contemporary fashion and traditional culture that will resonate with many Chinese consumers’ social identities. Anta and Li-Ning have been expanding their territory to create stronger ties between national pride (Guochao – 国潮) and brand identity in their marketing strategies, which many Chinese consumers highly favor due to a sense of connection.
Although international winter sports brands in China are well known for their high-quality equipment, local Chinese equipment brands have grown in popularity among Chinese consumers for their low prices.
Foreign winter sports brands appeal to Chinese winter sport athletes
As more Chinese consumers take part in and explore winter sports, foreign winter sports brands are entering China with the help of their Chinese partners, penetrating the winter sports market. An example is the Japanese sportswear brand, Descente, which entered the Chinese market through a joint venture with Anta. In November 2021, Descente opened its first global experience center with a ski-themed retail space for consumers to experience, the first of its brand concept spaces. Its innovative shopping methods, combined with advanced technology, allow Chinese customers to integrate fully into the brand’s experience.
Besides Anta’s joint venture with Descente, the German luxury ski wear company, Bogner, has also established a joint venture with the Chinese apparel group, Bosideng, to increase their digital presence targeting younger fashion lovers. Several international winter sports apparel brands, such as Burton and Fusalp have expanded into the Chinese market and supplying the rising demand for ski fashion.
Other foreign winter sports brands, such as Head, Fischer, Bauer, Rossignol, and Tecnica, have established themselves in China’s market, contributing to the promotion of winter sports. International ski sportswear brand Tecnica hopes to increase its shares in the Chinese winter sports industry by showing Chinese consumers products that fulfill the experience of the Italian-mountain lifestyle. Other winter sports apparel brands spotted in the market include Spyder, 361 Degrees, Nobaday, and X-Bionic.
How foreign winter sports brands in China are leveraging the olympics hype
The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics has amplified the consumption rate of purchases for domestic sports, fueling international winter sports brands’ desire to invest in China’s winter sports market. Despite the growing popularity of winter sports in China, customers may only regularly take part if they are confident that their experiences will be enjoyable. Some ways brands can play a role in providing comfort in Chinese consumers’ experiences are through:
- Ease in purchasing/renting gear
- Quality and standards of classes
- Convenience in booking
- Social activities
In October 2021, American ice hockey equipment brand, TRUE, opened a “one-stop” outlet store in an ice sports center in Beijing where teenagers can shop for all their equipment needs in one place. For Chinese beginners, buying gear for the first time, having such a store layout with multiple offerings can ease their worries and allow them to focus on enjoying the sport itself.
The Chinese winter sports industry is still a beginner’s market, with several challenges for participating parties and brands alike. With many individuals exploring winter sports, brands will become the first entry point for consumers’ knowledge of winter sports. Compared to other countries with skilled athletes, such as Switzerland, China’s late arrival into the winter sports industry poses one of the most significant hurdles in developing a long-standing close-knit ski culture, but it is also an opportunity for brands to create their own community hubs. Winter sports brands in China can promote and instill a sense of community among first-time Chinese participants in winter sports.
With the rise in orders and volume for ski equipment, the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics will play a key role in speeding up China’s ski industry and determining the success of winter sports brands in China. For winter sports brands to ride this wave, they must understand the key targets of the Chinese industry and how the sport has transformed from a professional event to a fun, stylish form of entertainment.
Winter sports trending on Chinese social media
Chinese social media users’ online presence in Xiaohongshu, Weibo, and WeChat shows anticipation and popularity of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. On Xiaohongshu, the search results for skiing and snowboarding increased by 214% in November 2021. Among those topics, trending is “Xiaohongshu snow season,” with users sharing advice on the best places to hit the slopes, best resorts to visit, and favorite winter sports apparel to wear while skiing. The recently launched skiwear collaboration series between Descente and Japanese fashion designer, Kazuki, has also become widely trending among netizens. Descente’s attempt to target the younger Chinese consumer base with fashionable but functional winter sports apparel has gained traction on Xiaohongshu.
What winter sports brands should know about the Chinese market
To conclude, the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics hype has launched Chinese citizens into a newfound interest in winter sports. Even after the Olympics passes, Chinese consumers’ passion for winter sports will stay. For winter sports brands in China to leverage the winter sports market fully, these are the main ideas to keep in mind:
- Winter sports brands in China must capitalize on the demand for winter outdoor activities by making a lasting impression on first-time consumers with a convenient, enjoyable experience, specifically by building a ski community culture
- For convenient entry into China’s winter sports markets, foreign winter sports brands can strategically market to enter with local Chinese winter sports brands
- Leading winter sports brands can follow Anta’s footsteps in increasing their brand exposure by expanding into other outdoor segments beyond their specializations to appeal to a broader consumer base
- Chinese consumers are viewing winter sports as a shift from a professional event to an enjoyable recreational activity
- By focusing on functional yet stylish sportswear equipment and collaborating with designers and artists, winter sports brands in China can gain visibility among younger Chinese consumers, who are the primary targets
- Foreign winter sports brands in China, their marketing success, will come from successfully guiding Chinese newcomers’ expectations and experiences of winter sports
- Domestic winter sports brands in China with connection to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics will be better able to position their brand connecting consumers’ bridge national pride and brand identity