Are Extreme Winter Sports TOO Extreme for China? Where the sport sector stands in 2017


Historically, the Winter Olympic Games saw the US, Russia and China battling for gold medals in figure skating, skiing and hockey. In 1998 snowboarding was added to the slate and fast-forward to 2014, in Sochi, Russia, the Olympic committee added a whopping 12 new sporting events, with 9 of them being “extreme” or “active” sports such as luge team relay, ski halfpipe, snowboard slopestyle and women’s ski jumping.

The next two winter Olympics will take place in East Asia, specifically South Korea in 2018 and China in 2022.  Fans are more interested than ever in these newer, cooler events, with brands eager to tap into the millennial appetite for epic   live-streamed content and experience. In China, these sports are far from full penetration, with new local organizations and clubs popping up, teaming with music festivals to deliver performances and competitions to a more mass audience.

Extreme Rise
The arrival of the X Games in 1995 and the X Games Asia held in Thailand in 1998 saw traditionally underground activities like BMX biking, roller blading and skateboarding to the world stage as competitive sports. The X Games Asia returned to Shanghai, China in 2007 backed by title sponsor KIA, which started putting their X Game interests into practice when the 7th X Games Asia was first held in South Korea . Since then, KIA had been the major investor throughout the following six years and eventually upgraded their deal to the global level as KWEG (KIA World Extreme Games) in 2013, co-organized by Yangpu District Administrative. Unfortunately, in 2016, KIA decided to pull out after a decade of massive spending on X sports where they werent able to quantify significant short-term financial gains.

Still on the rise, shoe power-house Vans, one of the most proactive brands in sponsoring events of sub-culture and sports, again booked Shanghai, China as the 2017 finale of Vans Park Series – worlds leading skateboarding championships for both Men-and-Women Pro games.

Extreme on the Mainstream
The point is that Olympic committee members and sponsors have quickly realized that a new generation of viewers find extreme events more attractive. To stay relevant, countries must give these sports a larger stage to play on.  With Sochi leading the way, South Korea is busy new inducting new athletes into extreme sports, where there will be a focus on getting their best extreme athletes on the podium to win Gold. 15-year-old Korean-American snowboarder, who last year became the youngest-ever athlete to win a gold medal at the X Games. Kim was too young to compete in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, but will be eligible to compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Chinese competitor Cai Xuetong placed third with 80.33 points.

Extreme Lack of Awareness
Simply put, the Chinese adoption of extreme sports has been slow to grow. There just isn’t a history or education in the subject  Winter sports like skiing and snowboarding have always been considered a wealthy man’s game. Many of these sports require unique equipment and training, not to mention special locations.

The majority of China’s winter sports activities happen in the Beijing and North China region.  Because of the unique climate, there isn’t a natural history of ice or snow sports.  For safety reasons, many of the snowy mountaintops within Chinese borders are government run and regulated.  They prevent any overly dangerous or extreme sports from being fostered for fear of unnecessary injury or death but also keep out any privatized development.

China sports insider Mark Dreyer comments, “One of the challenges in promoting new sports in China is that every sport is either trying to crack the market or defend their territory against new disciplines, with many sports trying to attract the same demographic.”

Dreyer adds, “Where extreme sports can have an edge is in the fact that their target demographic is different from those who might be more attracted to existing mainstream sports, such as basketball and soccer. Within that, winter sports such as snowboarding have a clear advantage right now as the government looks to promote that area in the build-up to the 2022 Winter Olympics and beyond, which means that the sport(s) not only attract a lot of investment, but also face an encouraging environment with regards to setting up new competitions or building new facilities.”

So what will it take?
Something as counter-culture as extreme sports takes a number of factors to all emerge in order to become mainstream in a country so deeply rooted in badminton and ping pong. Young Chinese people are increasingly active and risk-taking, enjoying the thrills of travel and adventure, however the local infrastructure needs to support that behavior. For one, there will need to be significant government support in regions that foster resort development as well incentives for suppliers to bring equipment to China for a reasonable price. Second, having a Chinese star who wins on a global scale will bring relevance to extreme.  A gold medal for China in an Olympic games they do not excel at would bring HUGE news to people all over the country.

With that, there would come government support and funding (possibly the most important factor) to a group of sports that are growing more and more each year.

Looking Ahead

The prognosis is good though.  As previously mentioned, extreme sports are cool.  No pun intended.  Youth today just don’t find ice-skating as exciting as they once did.  Count-culture summer sports like skateboarding and long boarding have grown massively in popularity which spells promise for their winter brothers.

Let’s not wait until 2022 to see though.  2018 is just around the corner, and all eyes are on South Korea.


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Dragon Group Asia

DGA provides integrated marketing solutions for multinational companies in the US and China.

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