The Sports Market and Trends in China

Sports and exercise have always played a big role in Chinese local life. And even more since Covid. All Chinese citizens practice sports at least 2 times per week, have outdoor activities for the weekend, and purchase fashion with sportswear design. The sports market in China occupies the central stage.

In my meetings with retailers and franchisees in the last 3 months, I received more requests for athleisure and sportswear. We have retailers and showrooms currently asking for fashion brands specialized in golf, yoga, and tennis. If you’re one of them, hit us up.

In this guide, I’ll cover everything you need to know about the sports market in China including what are the most popular sports in China and what are the latest trends to leverage for your business in China.

Sports Market Revenue and Growth in China

The sports market is among the most dynamic sectors in China. With a total revenue of $0.8 billion USD in 2022, the sports market was stable and reinforced during the Covid pandemic. Chinese people realized the importance of maintaining good health to improve their immunity system.

The projected market volume of the sports market will reach $1.3 billion USD by 2027. This data includes sports advertising, athlete endorsements, and in-app purchases. In 2021, the overall market size of the sports industry reached 3.12 trillion RMB (39 billion USD). The overall market includes sportswear, sports equipment, and sports facilities.

In total, 67.5% of people above 7 years old participated in fitness and sports activities at least once a week in 2022.

Sports Revenue Growth Rate of 8.39% until 2027

The total revenue of the sports market in China is expected to show an annual growth rate of CAGR 2022-2027 of 8.39% according to the latest Statista data reports.

The increasing practice of sports is turning China into the fastest-growing market for sports and fitness. Among the 1.4 billion people, this is the most evenly distributed market. The sports market is scaling from children to Gen Z, Millennials, and Seniors.

A new el dorado with specific sports practices and history.

Let’s move to the next chapter.

The History of Sports and Outdoor Activities in China

China has always loved sports. The whole world discovered its appetite for sports and athletic activities in 2008 when the country welcomed the Olympic Games in Beijing. According to TNS Sport, 91% of Chinese people are interested in sports compared with 53% of French people.

And it all started with Chinese medicine and Tai Chi.

The Success of Tai Chi and Qi Gong

In China, traditional medicine always recommends sports for an optimum flow of the “Qi” in the body.  The traditional Chinese medicine includes acupuncture, Tai Chi, and herbal products. Recent surveys show that Chinese medicine practices “such as acupuncture and tai chi, may help improve the quality of life and certain pain conditions“.

When you walk in parks such as Jingshan Park in China, it is very common to see elders practicing Tai Chi.

Older Chinese people will have a “soft” practice with Tai Chi and Qi Gong. They will prioritize gentle movements, certain postures, breathing, and relaxation in their practice. For centuries, the common sports practice in China was a gentle practice. It was all about gentle soft exercises to increase balance and stability.

Over the years, the new generations opened up to imported sports such as soccer, basketball, tennis, and volleyball.

But during the Cold War (1945-1989), sports became a matter of power.

The Cancellation of Golf and Bourgeois Activities

Some sports faced a backlash during the war and received quite a negative reputation since then.

Back in the day, sports played a prominent role in the “soft power” battle. We all know about the Ping-Pong Diplomacy (乒乓外交) that occurred during the Cold War. In 1972, President Nixon was welcomed in China to attend a competition between a ping-pong player from RPC and a player from the USA. That single event created a wind of change in American-Chinese diplomatic relations.

Before that, some sports were qualified as “bourgeois activities” that were not aligned with Chinese values.

During the Cold War (1945-1989), sports were used to fight against American “imperialism”. From 1920 to 1980, the Chinese sports model showcased the values of perseverance, hard work, and group spirit. It was positioned as a reaction to the American sports model showcasing the values of individuality, tenacity, and self-made success. The American sports model was described as “bourgeois” and some sports were canceled in China.

The main example of a sport that was long ago banned in China is golf.

In 2004, the government shut down 111 golf courses in China. But in the most recent years, the Chinese government came back on this long historical vision. Today, “the number of golf courses more than tripled to 683 before the new crackdown“.

Today, Chinese netizens are re-discovering this sport with a more poetic vision of golf.

The Impact of Covid on Fitness and Outdoor Activities

The sports market in China was totally reshaped in recent years due to COVID-19.

With the global pandemic, the importance of health was reinforced. The matter of the “immune system” became among the top concerns of Chinese people. 15 million people subscribed to gym memberships to improve their health. The fitness app Keep reached 100 million users in a few months. Sports influencers thrive including home fitness influencers like Pamela Reif, even in China where she gathered 17 million followers on all Chinese platforms.

Even HNWI (individuals with 1 million dollars in property) changed their priorities to health.

According to Hakuodo Institute, health is the top priority for 50% of Chinese people and for 55% of Chinese HNWI. In this list of concerns, health is above happiness (29%) and stable life (24%) for Chinese HNWI. In other words, top luxury consumers are also investing in their health in China.

On the other side, the recurrent lockdowns changed the sports market in China from indoor activities to outdoor activities. On Xiaohongshu, the searches for “going long distances” and “nature at your doorstep” respectively increased by 193% and 287% in 2022.

Chinese people are spending more time outside, looking for new sports activities.

Let’s see them in the next chapter.

Favorite Sports of Chinese People

This is the main question always coming back: What are the most famous sports in China?

  1. Basketball
  2. Tennis
  3. Yoga & Pilates
  4. Winter Sports
  5. Hiking

Each sport is meeting a great success, in terms of GMV sales and collaborations. Cross-categories partnerships are rising with brands from other categories asking to collaborate with brands from these related sports. And we see new outdoor activities entering the top 5 sports in China.

1. Basketball

This is the most popular sport in China today.  

The Chinese market is estimated to have 600 million basketball fans and 300 million basketball players

The NBA basketball player James Harden discovered the success of basketball among his Chinese fans when he noticed his local popularity. On his Weibo official account, he is followed by 2 million people. On August 16, 2023, James Harden organized a live streaming on Douyin with the influencer Crazy Little Brother Yang to promote his wine brand J-Harden Wines. The success was immediate and his reaction was recorded live.

James Harden sold ten thousand bottles in five seconds.

“No way!” shouted James Harden when rushing to the computer. The striking force of popular sports like basketball in China is unique. And it can benefit sports brands and other categories in co-branded campaigns.

2. Tennis

The second most famous sport in China is tennis.

We have released a guide dedicated to the tennis trend in China, read it here.

In total, there are 30,000 tennis courts all over China both indoor and outdoor. On Xiaohongshu, the searches for “Tennis OOTD” reached 373,510 views, and for “Tennis” reached 1 million views. This sport is not only a regular practice but also a lifestyle and mood described by Chinese netizens on social media. All the content is displaying outfit style but also personal sharing on personal progress and perseverance over the years.

In 2019, the Chinese group Anta acquired Wilson in China. Indeed, the same group that acquired Fila that we talked about in this previous strategy report. Anta acquired Wilson’s tennis racket brand for $5.2 billion USD. The strategic roadmap of Anta was a success again with tons of UGC posts on Chinese social media and Wilson activations.

3. Yoga & Pilates

Yoga and pilates are driven by the wellness and health trend in China.

The Covid pandemic played a prominent role in the development of these practices in China. Lockdowns triggered a higher consideration for mental health and wellness. Staying at home forced Chinese people to explore new practices that can be easily done at home, such as yoga and pilates. By staying in comfortable and aesthetic outfits all day long, Chinese consumers are now longing for brands following a yoga and pilates universe.

The Chinese market is estimated to have 10 million yoga practitioners.

The brand Lululemon is benefiting from the yoga and pilates success in China. In 2022, the net revenue of the brand reached $8.1 billion USD. The increase in net revenue is above 30% compared to 2021. Even more, its revenue in mainland China alone “soared by 70% year on year” according to the media Jing Daily.

4. Winter Sports

The Winter Olympic Games in Beijing in 2022 accelerated the practice of winter sports in China.

After the Olympics, 300 million Chinese people started winter sports. In 5 years, the number of ski stations increased from 568 to 803. And the number of skating rinks increased by 317% in all provinces.

sports market china

In the meantime, winter sports benefit fashion brands producing down jackets. The sales increased by 3-digit numbers in the past 5 years. Indeed, the brand Arc’teryx became aware of the impact of the Winter Olympic Games on down jacket sales. Their jacket was sold out in a few minutes after President Xi was wearing it for the opening ceremony in Beijing.

Collaborations and winter pop-up stores surged during the winter as a top trend in China.

5. Hiking

The number 5 favorite sport in China that you may want to look into is hiking.

Following the surge in outdoor activities, hiking became the firm favorite of Chinese people. Combining nature and sports, it turned into the top activity for weekends and holidays. On Xiaohongshu, UGC and PGC related to “camping”, “fishing”, and “hiking” surged over the last year. Sports are also driven by the digital trend of “glamping” in which camping is becoming glamorous.

sports market china

Hiking is part of the priorities of Chinese government investment. In the “2022-2025 Outdoor Sports Sector Development Plan” of the CGAS Committee, the plan expects to reach revenues of $420 billion USD for the outdoor sports sector. They expect to raise the number of outdoor sports companies in China by 2025. And they plan to create 100 outdoor sports events by 2025 also.

A new sports market opportunity that companies and brands don’t want to miss.

When Western Brands Meet the Chinese Sports Market

The brands that captured the sports market in China thrive. Women’s and men’s athleisure has become the norm and Chinese consumers wear athleisure at home, at work, and to exercise. “Take 25-year-old luxury yoga pants maker Lululemon, which has surpassed Adidas in market capitalization to become the second largest sportswear brand in the world” wrote Jing Daily.

The sports market offers a never-ending source of inspiration and products. From niche sports to famous sports, Chinese consumers are looking for unique brands providing quality, style, and comfort. Luxury and fashion brands have chosen to invest in the athleisure and sportswear market at the perfect time.

Reverse Group‘s network includes retail stores and showrooms asking for fashion brands with sports equipment, sportswear, and local animations. Contact us for local brand exposure and sales partnerships in China.


3 thoughts on “The Sports Market and Trends in China”

  1. Pingback: Tennis: The Must Watch Fashion and Luxury Trend in China

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