The Chinese online retailing giant Alibaba launched Alisports with the aim of developing the sports industry in China. Alisports which now boasts of 210 employees is also partially funded by Yunfeng Capital, a venture capital firm and Sina Sorp, a telecommunications operator in China. Last year sales of sports merchandise and goods on Alibaba reached $11.2 billion and if the sports industry is developed fully, the Chinese ecommerce leader stands to benefit. The relatively tiny sports industry in China is as a result of little government support.
To help in the organizational and broadcasting efforts of sports events, Alisports is tapping troves of data that Alibaba has collected from its over half a billion shoppers. Alisports has also partnered with coaches, schools, local and national sports teams and sporting good firms.
“Those data and technology are already there. We don’t have to create it on our own,” says the marketing vice president for Alisports, Li “Rocky” Feng.
Some of the data has been used to identify which products are popular in certain regions of the country. Through the data Alisports has been able to determine that archery and wresting gear do well in the colder northern parts of China. In the southern parts of China, on the other hand, badminton rackets and swimsuits are most popular. Some of the most popular items are in the athleisure segment and this includes jogging and yoga gear.
The data has also been used to issue recommendations to shoppers based on their shopping habits. When customers purchase basketballs or tennis rackets for instance via Alisports, they are then sent court times which they can make reservations for online as well as coach recommendations.
In order to enhance fan interest and the participation of youths, amateur competitions are being broadcast on Youku Tudou, the video services unit of Alibaba. The events are also being broadcast on Weibo, a Twitter-like service operated by Sina. Though little data has been collected so far on college and high school sports events, Alisports is working on that. At the moment Alibaba’s video streaming service is broadcasting Chinese University Basketball Association games.
Nationally, Alisports is also engaged in selling tickets to sports events as well as running a news service for the most popular sports in China. Recently, Alisports paid $100 million to become the World Rugby’s title sponsor. It also paid an undisclosed amount to become a FIFA Club World Cup title sponsor.