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This blog wishes it be known that the opinions presented herein are the sole responsibility of the author, and do not represent the feelings, opinions, ideas, or conclusions of any affiliated organization or group. Additionally, the author has chosen to keep the blog confidential during the Olympic Games 2008, as the reaction of the PRC towards foreign opinion remains ungauged. Thanks for reading.
Beijingfuturesdreams, 2008

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

August -- The Futures Present Opinion: Solar Glow Walls and Basketballs

On Saturday I was able to travel to West Beijing, and the quickly developing area around WuKeSong where the baseball and basketball venues were constructed. Without dwelling too much on the symbolism embedded in the building of the venues for two of the most popular western sports in the farther western reaches of the city, we dare say it was intentional. Additionally, we would like to propose that the pairing of the two venues has an additional aspect in terms of long term stratagem for creating a professional sports market here in the PRC.

Basketball represents one of the most popular and fastest growing sports in China. Sources quote anywhere from 100 to 600 million nationwide "participants" in the sport-- players, fans, organizers, and television viewers. The successful Chinese Basketball Association (CBA), started in 1995, has 14 teams, each playing a 36 game regular season, and the league currently draws crowds of over 800,000 total annually. Many, including NBA coordinators, view these statistics as only a beginning for the presence of basketball in China.

Baseball on the other hand has had quite the opposite reception in the PRC. While many nations of East Asia, notably Korea, Japan, and Taiwan, have been very successful in the sport, China is referred to as a "baseball desert" by many. Though 2002 saw the beginning of the Chinese Baseball League, mainland China's newest attempt at a professional level organization, it boasts only 6 teams and a 3-month-long season. However, due to China's huge population and interest in developing professional athletics, both American and Japanese professional baseball leagues have started to invest in the sport across the nation.

It would seem a likely scenario therefore, that the location of the basketball venue and baseball venue in such close proximity was more than just a way to categorize them together as "western" sports. Rather, this strategic placement may be a maneuver on behalf of outside interests to garner support for baseball, and compel its potential in the PRC. By joining the two sports in locale, visitors will undoubtedly begin to make connections between the two sport, and it is hoped that baseball will receive some extra attention.

Why the interest in growing a sports industry here in China: I just opened up a bag of chips and found something from my youth--a basketball player trading card. An NBA superstar, and player for the U.S.A. basketball team is staring at me from behind the card's glossy overlay as I put the chips to my mouth, and the NBA logo sits firmly in the card's upper right hand corner. All text is in Chinese. The market potential for sports iconography in China is huge.

With homegrown stars like Yao Ming of the Houston Rockets (NBA) drawing lucrative contracts and commercial deals, and a potential fan base of over a billion to pour their hard earned yuan into consumerism, Chinese professional athletics is viewed as rife with profits to be made. The commercial success of foreign sports icons in China has been huge for names like Manchester United, Michael Jordan, and the New York Yankees. As China's interest in professional sporting grows, so to will the interest in sports from around the world.

Similarly, sportswear producers see China as a market that can have a big influence on the entire industry. Top-dollar brands are of course heavily vested in and around the Olympics through direct and ambush marketing tactics. While Adidas was able to win the "official partner" status of the Beijing Games and Team China, other companies have taken the opportunity to pour on the commercials. China's growing middle class, and their disposable income, is being vied for heavily, and even brands that have lost their shine in other nations are able to build new identities and new customer bases.

And as for the Solar Glow Wall title of this blog, near the Wukesong venues is an installment of a technology that addresses both large scale advertising projects, and the "green" theme of the Beijing Games. Unveiled in May 2008, the Zero Energy Media Wall is the product of a cooperative development team composed of Chinese and German researchers. Covering over 24,000 square feet, and powered purely by a self contained photo-voltaic array, the installment is used to show artistic works. However, as a substitute for the prevalent (and energy consumptive) neon light displays on many Beijing store fronts, and the single use billboards around town, it is likely that this kind of sustainable and flexible technology will be adopted more.

Thus, the Yao Mings, MJ's, Beckham's, Kobe's, and Tiger's of China's growing professional sports circuits will have another venue in which they and their "favorite" gear can appear larger than life.

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