HUPU Digs Deep in China’s Sports Marketing
Shanghai-based sports website HUPU was making headlines in the past month, but not for its sports coverage. Within two weeks, it was announced that they partnered with Liverpool FC to launch the football club’s first official Chinese site, and also with Agence France-Presse to launch a Chinese language sports service for Chinese audience.
With Chinese-language sports news dominated by news portals sites like Sina, Tencent and NetEase, HUPU, previously known as hoopCHINA, has cultivated an unique presence in China with its popular sports forums and fan communities in various sports.
Co-founded by Shawn Cheng, a PhD in mechanical engineering at Northwestern University, and Yang Bing, then webmaster of a basketball video-sharing site, HUPU was first introduced to Chinese sports fans in 2004, with an exclusive focus on basketball. HUPU’s main focus now is basketball and football. It also features a host of popular sections such as tennis, running and auto racing,
In 2012, HUPU signed contracts with basketball players like Alan Iverson and Rafer Alston, starting to host basketball events in China’s 3rd- and 4th-tier cities such as Yuncheng in Shanxi and Xinxiang in Henan. The efforts proved to be a huge success as sports stars and events were generously welcomed by the local governments they spoke with. As a sports media company, HUPU’s total revenue in 2012 reportedly reached RMB 130 mln (roughly USD 21 mln ), of which 30 percent generated from sports events hosting.
This week at China Sports Review, we speak with Chen Zhongjie, chief editor at hupu.com, to discuss their website content, its recent moves and future possibilities:
– It’s great to have you on China Sports Review. Could you tell us when and why you have joined HUPU?
It’s actually my first job out of college. I studied administrative management, a bizarre major for sports journos really. I was part-timing at HUPU in college and, by the end of 2007, a friend at the company asked if I was interested in a full time job. The main focus then was basketball, but I was told a football section was launching soon. Being a football fan, I thought why not give it a try?
– Tell us about the partnership with Liverpool FC. When can we see the website and what does the deal entail?
The website is expected to be launched by the end of 2013. Liverpool FC was looking for partners that can help them develop and run the site. Though HUPU doesn’t have experience in running websites of foreign football clubs, we’re considered to be more jie diqi, or “closer to the ground”, with an extensive fan communities, hence this partnership.
[Editor’s note: HUPU runs the officials sites of China League One and National Basketball League, two second-tier leagues in Chinese football and basketball respectively.]
– Is it possible that more foreign sports clubs to have their official sites set on HUPU?
It’s definitely possible. But we hope the partnership can extend beyond a Chinese website. We hope to cooperate with sports clubs in areas like brand marketing, sports tours, etc. The official site of LFC is a good start for us.
– What about the sports service with AFP?
It’s a cooperation only in content. Next year is big for sports reporting, as you have the Winter Olympics and the FIFA World Cup on their way. AFP can provide us with quality coverage in photos and videos. We’ll help them package the content to reach Chinese audience.
– How do you describe the DNA of HUPU as a sports news provider? Who do you consider as HUPU’s main competitors?
Everyone on HUPU is sharing something. Before, there’s an information gap between inside and outside of China, and we filled in the holes with many expert-level basketball fans in our forums. But now you have an abundance of information to deal with. So instead of positioning ourselves as a platform to provide sports news ourselves, we aggregate and process news.
Our latest Voice section is a great example. Our backstage system helps us collect a sea of information on social media inside and outside of the Great Fire Wall, which is then sifted through and translated by HUPU editors to the readers.
In terms of competitors. we’d rather hope to include all the reportings from different portal sites, presenting various angles to our readers.
– What are some of your favorite content on HUPU?
I always enjoy reading the discussion forums. But in terms of original content that we produce, I favor some football programs like Tactic Board.
– How social media is changing sports news production in China? And how, if any, has it changed HUPU?
You definitely have more news sources now. Fans accounts and clubs accounts on social media platforms produce content themselves. For us, we now have the above-mentioned Voice section. We launched our own Weibo accounts very early. Of course you need to have a presentable presence on social media and Weibo has helped us get closer to our users.
– For sports events, it’s very interesting that, instead of going into places like Beijing and Shanghai, you targeted some cities obscure even to most Chinese.
On the one hand, we found the market was close to saturation in 1st-tier cities, with many other entertainment choices being offered to the consumers at the same time. This is one of the reasons why many sports events like the China Tours of some elite European football clubs were not very successful in recent years.
On the other hand, our research found there are some cities with good purchasing power and needs, but with few sports events.
– It’s reported that some regulations issued by China’s central government caused problems for your hosting of basketball events. Is that true?
The regulations forbid SOEs and local governments to invite celebrities. We actually discussed this with local governments and found they are still very open to the idea of bringing in sports athletes and events, which is considered healthy [compared with other celebrities].
– Tell us the most exciting things HUPU has done in 2013 and why they are important?
For sports events, we shifted our focus from basketball to football. We brought in Paul Scholes and Michael Owen to Guangdong for a futsal game and it was really well received in Chinese media. It’s a small step but signals what we hope to achieve in long term.
Thank you so much for your time and have a wonderful holidays!
Links and sources:
- Goal – Liverpool to launch new Chinese website
- AFP – AFP, Hupu team up to launch sports service in China
- The Daily Mail – United legend Scholes proves he’s still got the skills as he plays keepy uppy with Salgado… on the day he celebrates his 39th birthday in China
- Ballislife – Allen Iverson, Rafer Alston & Ballup streetballers mix from HUPU All-Star Game in China