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Market growing despite Li Na's exit

By Sun Xiaochen (China Daily) Updated: 2016-01-21 08:04

Despite the lack of homegrown stars shining on the world stage, the popularity of tennis remains strong enough to sustain a growing number of tournaments in China, said business insiders.

With the 2016 Australian Open swinging into action earlier this week, the absence of Chinese players in the main draw following the retirement of two-time Grand Slam champ Li Na has cast a shadow on the sport's fledgling market in China, where a record 12 men's and women's international events will be held this year.

However, tournament organizers and executives of sports-marketing agencies take a positive view of the game's allure.

Market growing despite Li Na's exit

Fans try to catch a towel thrown by Novak Djokovic of Serbia after his men's singles match against Zhang Ze of China at the China Open tennis tournament in Beijing on Oct 8. Kim Kyung-Hoon / Reuters

"The tennis market in China is becoming more mature than it was. Sophisticated fans are adopting the sport as a way of life and entertainment even without the presence of strong local players," said Zhang Junhui, president of China Open Promotions Limited.

The China Open women's event became the most-watched tournament on the Women's Tennis Association Tour last year, drawing global viewership of 34.6 million.

Launched in 2004, the tournament signed a record 12 sponsors, which contributed combined endorsements of more than 180 million yuan ($27.4 million) last year, while making a profit for the first time.

Aiming to share event organizers' experiences as well as marketing and media resources, the China Open last week built an alliance with tennis marketing agency APG and US-based sports marketing company Octagon.

"The China Open was a pioneer, and other tournaments have now been organized. Everybody has developed know-how - expertise and networks. If we can collectively put all those together to serve everybody, then we can benefit from that," said Fabrice Chouquet, chief operating officer of APG, which is based in the Asia Pacific.

APG currently manages and promotes the men's Shenzhen Open and women's Tianjin Open.

Octagon, which manages the WTA Wuhan Open with local authorities, will leverage its resources in player management to bring more stars to China, said Jorge Salkeld, senior vice-president of the company's tennis division.

"We hold a strong belief that the game's growth will be boosted by the cooperation in the future," he said.

Charles Hsuing, China Open tournament co-director and a member of the WTA Tournament Council, expects the new platform to help upgrade Chinese tournaments in player management, sponsors and media coverage.

"We can also do promotions together in terms of branding. We can take a lot of resources from one to another. By having an alliance we can be stronger," Hsuing said.

sunxiaochen@chinadaily.com.cn

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