Online Exclusive: Sports Marketing News

NBA SIGNS DEAL WITH CHINESE SPORTS APPAREL COMPANY

Li-Ning to Promote Basketball in China With Eye to 2008 Olympics

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BEIJING (AdAge.com) -- The National Basketball Association signed a strategic marketing agreement yesterday with Li-Ning, one of China's fiercely ambitious emerging international brands.
Like Adidas or Reebok, Li-Ning is a sports apparel company selling lines of branded products like the basketball shoes above. The company's logo resembles Nike's swoosh.
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Li-Ning, founded in 1990 by Olympic gymnast Li Ning, now 40, who remains one of China's most-revered athletes, has become the best-selling sports shoe and apparel brand in China, generating $145 million in sales revenue in 2003.

In-roads by Nike, Adidas
The company hopes that linking its brand to the NBA's popularity and world-class image will help Li-Ning compete with Western rivals such as Nike and Adidas, which are steadily gaining market share in the world's fastest-growing economy.

The agreement allows Li-Ning to feature select NBA players in its advertising efforts, including local appearances, and utilize the league's marketing and media assets in China. For instance, Li-Ning basketball and brand campaigns, created by Publicis Groupe's Leo Burnett, Beijing, will appear on nationally televised NBA games broadcast across the mainland, as well as on the Web site NBA.com/China.

2008 Olympic Games
In return, Li-Ning will share its local market expertise and widespread on-ground presence to help the NBA grow in China in the critical years leading up to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

"[The partnership] fits well with our strategy to partner with leading brands to further our reach throughout the China market," said Mark Fischer, the NBA's managing director for China.

The country has been churning out basketball enthusiasts, particularly since local hero Yao Ming became a global celebrity after he joined the Houston Rockets in 2002.

League's popularity
According to TNS Sport, a global sports research company, 85% of mainland Chinese are NBA fans; basketball is the favorite sport among Chinese youth; and six of the top 10 favorite athletes in China are NBA players. A survey by Aegis Group's Synovate research unit found that 20- to 29-year-old Chinese viewers said they like to watch the NBA more than any other sports league.

Li-Ning's decision to work with the NBA is the latest sign that it has the ability to compete with foreign brands within China and, eventually, in international markets.

To sharpen the company's momentum in recent years, Mr. Li has recruited local experts such as Abel Wu, a former brand manager at Procter & Gamble China who is now Li-Ning's marketing director, to oversee the brand's evolution. It also appointed Leo Burnett to help develop marketing strategies and product advertising through 2008, the pivotal Olympic year, even though most local companies still use foreign ad agencies for only short-term projects, if at all.

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