HONG KONG — The Beijing Winter Olympics may still be six years away, but China is not taking any chances when it comes to hosting the international sports competition. The Chinese government is racing ahead with initiatives to get nationals interested in skiing and skating, while at the same time creating opportunities for brands that can dress them.
Two weeks ago, Sun Xuecai, head of the Beijing Sports Bureau, proposed introducing compulsory winter sports to its primary and middle schools. “Each student is expected to do at least one type of winter sport in the future, and they will have at least one hour of winter sports training every week,” he said, according to the state-run China Daily.
If approved, that means a good chunk of Beijing’s 21 million-strong population will need to gear up. And there are other initiatives, too. Beijing has 40 skating rinks at present, and 66 more will be built by 2022, Sun said. The Beijing municipal government is also working on improving its 22 existing ski resorts and plans to open 30 new ski areas before the 2022 Games. And that’s just in one city.
Some brands have already taken notice. Columbia Sportswear, the official uniform partner of several countries’ freestyle ski teams, said: “We can see that skiing and other winter sports are getting more popular in China, and people are traveling more in the winter, as well. In 2015, 108 new ski resorts opened with over 12.5 million visitors. As a result, consumer demand for performance gear, apparel [and] technical outerwear is on the rise.”
Bruce Rockowitz, chief executive officer of Global Brands Group, which owns Spyder, said: “We feel [Asia] is very ripe for outdoor and for ski for the next six to eight years.” The Colorado brand is responsible for outfitting the U.S. and Canadian Olympic ski teams. But he explained that conquering the Chinese outdoor market really must begin with the preceding South Korean Winter Olympics in 2018.
“We set up a whole team there [in Korea] from design, from retail. We really look at Korea as the launching point for the rest of Asia. Korea is really a place that China looks to for direction on fashion, on music. We’re really gearing up for this next six years, and we see huge growth in the outdoor market,” he said.
Spyder is set to open 26 stores in South Korea by end of the year and more than 100 stores in the country over the next three years. The brand 2XU, a favorite of many professional athletes, also acknowledged the opportunity saying: “China and South Korea are two markets that we will be investing in heavily in the next few years.”
But it’s not without challenges. The Winter Olympics don’t receive nearly the same amount of buzz as the Summer Games. Beijing 2022’s budget is $3.9 billion, a fraction of the 2008 Summer Games’ $43 billion cost.
NPD Group sports analyst Matt Powell said that historically the Winter Olympics don’t translate into sales. “The Winter Olympics have very little merchandise impact,” he said. “Products are too technical for everyday use and sports are too obscure. At best, the Winter Olympics might be a branding opportunity, but there is no sales lift from the games.
“It’s never happened before, and I do not expect it will now,” he added.
Rockowitz acknowledged that getting people to wear sports jackets in their daily wear is imperative. “It’s not just on the mountain. We want kids to be wearing [them] to school,” he said.
While it may not be the Winter Olympics itself that lifts sales, it is a peg around which the entire outdoor sports industry looks set to grow.
Remo Ruffini, ceo of Moncler, said: “In the next year we also plan to rethink and restructure the entire product offer to propose to our Chinese customers.”