Business / Industries

Winter sports boom brings startups, investment

By ZHENG XIN (China Daily) Updated: 2015-07-31 08:36

Winter sports boom brings startups, investment

A worker installs promotional signs of Beijing 2022 inside halls of the National Aquatics Center, or Water Cube, at the Olympic Park in Beijing, China, July 30, 2015. The executive board of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is expected to announce in Malaysia on July 31 the winning host of the 2022 Winter Olympics, a position being contested by Kazakhstan and China.

When the International Olympic Committee gathers on Friday in Kuala Lumpur to select the host city for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, there will be a cross section of companies and investors in Beijing keeping their fingers crossed.

If the Chinese capital does win the much-coveted bid, it will be a shot-in-the-arm for a fledgling industry dominated by startups and venture capital-funded firms in China.

"The winter sports market has been picking up downhill speed in recent years and seeing increased investments from startups and VC-funded firms," said Wang Xiaoyuan, founder of VIP SKI, an online-to-offline skiing service provider for skiers. Besides equipment recommendations and checkups, the company also arranges trips to various ski resorts for winter sport lovers.

Wang has been working with VIP SKI for eight years on a part-time basis, purely out of passion for the sport. However, this year he left his full-time job at an Internet company and started working only for VIP SKI.

"The growing passion for winter sports in China in recent years has been amazing, and Beijing's bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics is definitely the icing on the cake," he said.

Wang said ski resorts in China attracted more than 10 million visitors during the recent winter season, nearly double the 6 million visits recorded in 2013-14 winter season.

"Rising disposable incomes have allowed more Chinese households to venture out in winter, equipped with waterproof designer jackets and the latest skis and snowboards," said Wang.

"China's ski market is entering a golden period," he said.

It is not just Wang who exudes optimism about the winter sports sector, also referred to as the "white sector" in industry parlance.

Beijing Hualu Baina Film and TV Inc recently announced an investment of 1 billion yuan ($161 million) in Zhangjiakou, a city in the neighboring Hebei province that lies 200 kilometers northwest of Beijing and one of the event venues if Beijing wins the bid.

The investment is primarily for upgrading the winter sports facilities in the city, said the company.

Dalian Wanda Group, a leading Chinese real estate company, purchased Swiss sports-marketing company Infront Sports & Media AG for $1.2 billion to use its abundant resources of media and marketing rights for global sports events and organizations.

Wanda will hold a 70 percent stake in the company, while the rest will be held by investors such as International Data Corp and Shanghai Media Group.

Wang said China will see more and more people taking to winter sports activities like skiing, whether Beijing hosts the Games or not. "Winning the bid will definitely be a morale booster for the upgrade of facilities and services."

His views are echoed by Zhang Qing, founder of the sports marketing agency Key-Sports.

"Though the industry started in the 1990s, the ski market did not hit the fast trail until 2010. Since then, a lot of skiing resorts have been built and the number of skiers has also risen from about 200,000 to 5 million, a growth rate of about 30 to 50 percent," he said.

"With most of the investment in the sector coming from private investors, there is potential for further expansion.

"Winning the Olympics bid will lead to a substantial increase in government investment on infrastructure construction and other related sectors," he said.

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