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Media landscape and comparison of China marathon and international marathon

(People's Daily Online)    14:26, June 02, 2019

Mr. Wei Jianglei, General Manager of Sports, delivered a speech at the 2019 IAAF Global Running Conference opening ceremony in northwestern China’s Lanzhou city on June 1. Mr. Wei elaborated on China media landscape on Marathon.

Below is his speech.

Media landscape and comparison of China marathon and international marathon

By Wei Jianglei

Good morning ladies and gentlemen, its my honor to be here to share with you on China media landscape on Marathon and comparison to the world.

Since yesterday, we all have learnt the rapid growth of China marathon and races in the recent years. The growth not only triggered by the regulatory encouragement but also the media contribution. Today, 100% IAAF and CAA labeled marathon races require draw lots. And the 2019 Wuhan Marathon, for example, has a success rate as low as 12%. And more and more, runners received the messages and invites months ahead of the race day to participate the drawing process. And on the day of lottery result release, the lucky ones will form waves of buzz on wemedia and social media to show off. The drawing process and result announcement become standard warm up procedure for leading races and promotion opportunities for event organizers and sponsors. 

On the other hand, there are disparities among the growth of the races, the maturity of runners, commercialization, and balance of quality and quantity of events. Although many issues can be addressed by marketing strategy and media coverage, only few races have clear promotion strategy and solid media collaboration tactics.

China has the world largest mobile internet user group. Over 1 billion internet users access internet applications via mobile phones on daily basis. But surprisingly, China marathon races still select TV channels as the first choice of race promotion. CCTV5, China’s national and professional sports TV channel covered 30 races last year and many sponsors had followed them. The other satellite TV channels with national coverage also shared the glory and benefited from the phenomena. Tourism TV, Zhejiang STV, Hubei STV, etc.  

Since 2015, Sina Sports was one of the early birds to cover marathon races by mobile internet and social media. Sina Sports adapted TV class equipment to produce the signal but utilize broadband and mobile network to broadcast the race both on and Weibo. The combined, Sina mobile, Sina News App, Sina Sports App entertain as much as 45million internet users and Weibo serves 203 million users daily. The mass coverage provides the race with ability to reach millions of viewers for a single race. Different from TV’s one way communication, internet offers everyone an equal voice on a subject matters to them. The mass coverage invites mass comments and discussions which also put the race under scrutinization. A little dissatisfaction and a minor issue can turn into major social chaos. There are more than handful mismanaged cases in this month alone also remind all race organizers to have effective media strategy and solid communication tactics.

As of now, 100% gold marathon races have built official Weibo accounts and all labeled races had utilized Weibo hashtags to promote the event, monitor the complaints and channel the discussion. Beijing marathon hashtags has accumulated 1.2 billion impressions and 333 thousands discussions, followed by Lanzhou marathon with 240 millions impressions and 146 thousands discussions. The contents built around the events, runners, sponsors and volunteers by video clips, articles, photos and interviews attracted 130 thousands followers for Xiamen Marathon Weibo account. The official Weibo account serves as an official media to runners and other followers. A race can be live broadcasted on its Weibo account with simultaneous interactions with runners and their beloved ones. Runners can use their mobile phones with application to cover the race track and feed the signal into the official race broadcasting. Followers can give likes to runners on the track as encouragement and ask live questions in the comment section. Weibo turned a less entertaining race into a fully interactive live show.

The development of mobile technology enables traditional media such as People’s Daily and Xinhua News Agency to establish its mobile internet coverage for marathons. Based on serval successful attempts, both of them took few bold moves: to join hands with event organizers to co-host races and later, become the race organizers. xinhuanet.sports by Xinhua News Agency established “Redrun Marathon” featuring 20 historical and famous cities like Guangan, Jinggangshan, etc. in 2018. "People's Sports, Healthy China" Marathon Championship by People’s Daily Online also hosted 20 marathons last year. Both had taken efforts to enhance internet coverage and explore mobile internet broadcasting for established races such as Lanzhou Marathon, ZhengKai Marathon. Media host marathon has been common practice for decades but Internet media’s involvement is changing the marathon development landscape in China. Media has the power of voice and internet media, especially those leading and influential internet media have a lot more. Abilities such as Simultaneous, spontaneous, interactive, responsive and directive distinguished internet media from all others. With 1 billion mobile internet users in China, reaching millions in seconds becomes reality for many races on and by internet media.

Many race organizers employed internet media to produce affordable city video introduction and embedded the content into race live broadcasting. For instance, Sina Sports broadcasted Zhangjiagang marathon last year. The 80 hour long video content for the city prepare by a team of 8 professionals made the 6 hour race broadcast a city view documentary. And runner’s story blended with sponsor’s message feeding into the live broadcasting, listed on official race Weibo account and interact with Sina Sports Weibo account matrix, generated likes and comments in tens of thousands and mushroomed the race exposure.

Inspired by seasoned race organizers like Prague marathon and Berlin marathon, many medaled marathons have marathon exhibition and forum before or after the race.

There are marathons in countries still been dominated by TV coverage. The Tokyo Hakone relay has been initiated and broadcasted by Yomiuri Shimbun and NHK for decades and still obtained over 23% rating this year, very different from China’s overwhelming mobile Internet coverage.

Wechat’s 1 billion daily active user base, together with Weibo’s 203 million DAUs surpassed Facebook, Twitter and Ins combined by times, which clearly differentiates China’s marathon promotion from the rest of the world. More importantly, it is an unrealized gold mine in front of everyone.

Other than the mobile internet practice mentioned earlier, there are more races than of the track: mobile TV,drone, 4K handhelds have been popularized globally. China, by far is the winner of 5G mobile network enablement. All 3 major telecom operators are testing their 5G networks in China. Soon, sophisticated satellite and micro wave relay broadcast solution will be advanced by 5G network capabilities. It means any 4K or 8K video devices will produce high density content suitable for large TV screen or mobile phone projection to screen by all size. And more advertisement solutions will be deployed into the race broadcasting.

So race organizers, now its the best time to revisit your broadcast options. Plan to diversify your appetite for your race and sponsors.

And for the race hosting city, what will a marathon contribute to a city and what legacy the city people will benefit. Maybe it’s the race track marked with mileage, supply kiosk in every 5K, rest and storage spots at the start and finish...... What spiritual assets a marathon could accumulate? Runners with better manner and track curtesy? More positive media

involvement? Improved supervision? Better runners club management? More marathon mayors and many more......

Marathon is a temple for those who shape their bodies and minds. Marathon is an effort that municipal government to serving people and returning to tax payers. Marathon can be a non-profit event to realize the purpose of improving people’s health and sense of fulfillment. Marathon can be more and will be more.

However, in many more occasions, Marathon is a business, a business following business logic and sustained by positive cash flow. The average sponsorship revenue was 4.3 million RMB last year, not sufficient to fund all races. Government funding can be instrumental at the early stage but soon must be yield to business model and financial calculations.

The privileged runners shall be reminded and encouraged to pay more entry fee to subsidize the event cost. Race organizers need to develop the race value, largely online and justify the ROI for contributors. Sponsors need to build its mobile internet ROI model and start to shift expenditures accordingly.

In the end, a race in black, is a race can last. China needs more healthy marathons and a lot more healthy runners. We come in late and we come in strong.

China will be the pioneer and contributor to IAAF and the world in marathon development, and many more.


(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)
(Web editor: Xian Jiangnan, Bianji)

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