Posted by: Frederik Balfour on March 06, 2008
Talk about putting a new twist on ping-pong diplomacy. Chinese sports apparel and shoemaker Li-Ning has agreed to sponsor the US National Table Tennis Team for the next five years. That means American players will be dressed in Chinese-made sports garb at this year’s Beijing Summer Olympics. This is definitely a first. Never before has a Chinese company sponsored a U.S. national sports team.
Li-Ning’s eponymous founder was himself an Olympic Gold Medalist in gymnastics, and understands the power of sport in brand building. But unlike its rival Adidas-Salomon, which is spending close to $100 million on marketing tied to its sponsorship of the Olympics, Li-Ning has opted to focus on individual team sponsorship instead—saving a huge amount of money in the process. However should the US team win a medal in this summer’s games, the players better be ready to make a quick costume change before the awards ceremony. As part of Adidas’s deal with the Beijing Olympics Committee, all athletes who mount the podium to receive medals will be dressed in Adidas gear from head to toe. The same goes for athletes sponsored by Nike [which is also not an official games sponsor] such as Chinese Olympic hurdler and Athens gold medalist Liu Xiang.
BusinessWeek’s team of Asia reporters brings you the latest insights on business, politics, technology and culture from some of the world’s biggest and fastest-growing economies. Eye on Asia’s bloggers include Asia regional editor Bruce Einhorn, Tokyo reporter Ian Rowley, Korea bureau chief Moon Ihlwan, Asia News Editor and China Bureau Chief. Dexter Roberts, and Hong Kong-based Asia correspondent Frederik Balfour.