Alibaba’s Olympic Sponsorship Further Expands Jack Ma, China’s Influence In Sports – Forbes
In 2014, billionaire Jack Ma said that “China’s soccer industry needs somebody to help stir up things.” Whether he had been thinking about stirring up the Olympics at the time is unknown. The Financial Times reports that e-commerce giant Alibaba has agreed to sponsor the next six Olympic Games in a deal worth an estimated $600 million. The agreement includes Alibaba providing digital services and an online marketplace for the Olympics and the creation of an Olympics television channel with content custom-made for younger Chinese audiences.
For China, Alibaba’s agreement further advances the country’s mission to become a “great sports nation,” as President Xi Jinping has said. China has been investing heavily in becoming a soccer power, offering European stars jaw-dropping sums of money to migrate – so jaw-dropping that a Chinese sports administrator said that “a cap on players’ salaries and transfer fees will be established to control irrational investment.” Cristiano Ronaldo refused an offer from a Chinese club that would have paid him $105,581,500 per year and China is planning to build 50,000 soccer schools by 2025. Alibaba is the first Chinese company since 2008 to become a top-level Olympic sponsor – a group that is usually headlined by American companies like Coca-Cola, Visa and McDonald’s.
For Ma, Alibaba is covering all the bases of Chinese sports interest with an Olympic sponsorship. Research firm Nielsen finds that in China, basketball, table tennis, badminton and swimming have the highest interest levels with soccer not too far behind. All of these, of course, will be played in the summer Games. The next three Olympic Games, one summer and two winter Games, are taking place in Pyeongchang, Tokyo and Beijing, and with over 80% of Chinese households tuning into the Beijing Olympics in 2008, Alibaba can defend its investment by pointing to a history of high ratings. After the U.S. Trade Representative placed Alibaba on its list of “notorious marketplaces” last month, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said that Alibaba’s e-commerce platform can prevent sales of counterfeit merchandise.
Steadily gaining popularity in China, soccer has been under Ma’s sights as well. His company invested $192 million for a 50% stake in Chinese club Evergrande Taobao in 2014, a team that spent a hefty $46 million to sign Atletico Madrid’s Jackson Martinez. Yunfeng Capital, a fund backed by Ma, is looking to bid for a stake in Spanish firm Imagina Media, which sells international rights to Spain’s La Liga. Alibaba is also in discussions with FIFA to become a sponsor for the World Cup, Bloomberg reports.