Alibaba’s sports arm Alisports aims to turn Chinese people into sports lovers. And it does it by reshaping the sports industry and its supply chain according to the rules of the new digital economy
Alibaba’s sports arm is digitizing fitness in China, starting in Hangzhou. Here, Alisports recently gave a fitness center a total digital makeover. The goal is to make it easier for Chinese consumers to enjoy sports in order to have more people participating in healthy activities.
Smart lightings in sport fields automatically switch on and off. Members at the gym can book and pay their sports sessions through Alipay by checking-in via face scan or QR code. In the meantime, through advanced technologies, managers keep track of the visitor capacity and the pool’s water quality in real-time.
Everything in this center is smart and bookable through Alipay, including wristbands that serve as locker keys. And when users leave, the online payment app automatically deducts admission fees from their accounts.
But the fitness experience at the Hangzhou center does not end here. Since eSports – electronic sports – has been gaining both attention and recognition in China, the building also includes more than 30 arcades and sports-simulation games. Thanks to these simulators, players can explore different types of sports, using the latest hi-tech innovations such as virtual reality headsets.
After Hangzhou, Alisports aims to bring this digital fitness model to more facilities across the country. And this move is fully in line with Beijing’s big plans for China’s sports industry.
© Alisports. Last August, Alisports inaugurated the first Alibaba Sports Center in Hangzhou. The fully digital fitness facility aims to make it easier for Chinese people to enjoy sports.
The Dragon’s government wants the sports market to reach $813 billion in 2025 from the $326.3 billion it generated in 2017. To that end, last December, China released guidelines to propel its sports industry growth, encouraging further development of industries related to health and leisure. Thanks to the increase of the per capita GDP of the PRC and thanks to the demand for more sports consumption, the sports industry is thus facing rapid growth while China could become the biggest fitness market in the world within the next 20 years.
As a response, major companies started to approach the fitness sector catching a glimpse of opportunity in this growing field. One of these is Alibaba, which has made Beijing’s goal for “health and happiness” the main mantra of its sports arm, Alisports.
With this in mind, Jack Ma tried to create a platform that could combine e-commerce and sports in the Middle Kingdom. Therefore, in 2015, Alisports was established by Alibaba together with Sina Corporation, and Yunfeng Capital.
Actually, from working with Kobe Bryant to partnering with Bayern Munich, Alibaba has been paying attention to sports for a long while. Through Alisports, the Hangzhou company thus wants to leverage digital technology to transform China’s sports industry.
Jack Ma has built a platform for China’s digital economy that includes a full economic ecosystem and a comprehensive range of services. Alisports leverages this ecosystem and use those resources to transform Alibaba’s 755 million users into sports participants.
While the Chinese government uses its administrative power to push the sports economy, Alisports leverages the internet to help the sports industry to boom. In particular, the app uses e-commerce to drive consumers to buy sporting goods online, to engage them with sporting teams and clubs, but above all, to encourage their participation.
Alisports provides services that link to e-commerce, ticketing, and video streaming through a platform developed with Alicloud, the largest cloud computing company in China. The app aims to cover every service related to sports such as offering fitness experiences, sportswear marketplaces, or helping to find partners to play sports. Being a part of Alipay’s ecosystem, the infrastructure also incorporates artificial intelligence and facial recognition for accreditations.
Therefore, Alibaba had the innovative idea to promote online shopping with offline physical exercise and vice versa. Following the New Retail model, the Hangzhou giant has, in fact, created a sort of “calorie bank“, an intuition to encourage not only online sales but also physical activity.
Users of this bank get virtual coins by burning calories every day. The amount of calories burnt equals the number of virtual coins, which in turn are equivalent to real money, thus eligible for consumption on Alibaba’s e-commerce platforms. In other words, the platform offers to convert offline exercises to virtual coins for online purchasing.
© Alisports. On August 8, for the National Fitness Carnival, Alisports used the calorie bank to raise awareness on healthy eating through an O2O approach.
From Tmall and Taobao to Youku online stream, from Damai ticketing to Fliggy traveling and so on. The idea is to make it fun for everyone to exercise and spend afterward in as many ways as possible.
Thanks to this ground-breaking service, Chinese people are now more motivated to exercise. Now, they can also know how much exercise they have done and will thus be able to count and program their activities.
Encouraging exercising, Alisports highlights the importance of health. Indeed, the final goal is to have as many people as possible to join its calorie bank. As a matter of fact, 14 million people have registered as users of the bank in less than a year.
The calorie bank started off on Alipay but it is now expanding into other platforms of Alibaba. Last year, Alisports acquired a fitness app of 55 million users called Ledongli, which will help spread the calorie bank to even more people.
The slogan of Alisports is to make sports simple. “That’s why we want to build such a base platform, through our strengths in big data, to make it simple for ordinary people to enjoy sports. We hope that everyone’s dream of being a sportsman can come true. We know not everyone can be a professional athlete, however, but we think sportsmanship is a spiritual quality, and everyone can realize his dream of being a sportsman,” said Zhang Dazhong – Alisports CEO – in an interview for Alizila.
Therefore, Alisports is not playing the role of a marketplace for sports-related articles or services only but it is rather building a platform that connects the users’ sports practice with their consumption behavior.
Alibaba is transforming Chinese people into sports lovers also thanks to the many collaborations and relationships that Jack Ma’s company has managed to weave over time. The company collaborated with FIFA for the 2018 edition of the World Cup in Russia and it will also be the main sponsor of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and the Beijing Winter Olympics.
Due to all its tech solutions, Alisports helped as an Olympic partner for the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia but it will especially play a very important role in Hangzhou’s 2022 Asian Games as one of the slogans of the competition is “Smart Games”.
According to Alisports’ CMO Wang Yiming, the goal of these collaborations is to help the Hangzhou group to cultivate the spirit of teamwork and unyielding attitude through sports. “Alisports is not for some particular top sports, it’s for everyone,” he said. Partnering with the Olympic games thus means believing in that spirit and wanting it to be shared with Alisports’ users.
© Pexels. The sports industry contribution to China’s GDP is expected to grow from 1,9% in 2015 to over 3% by 2025. And technology is central to this market growth.
Better living standards together with a higher disposable income have risen, leading people to engage in new activities. The concept of “a healthy mind in a healthy body” is another reason for Chinese people to start exercising while chasing new beauty standards as well as a way to escape an intense work environment.
The Alibaba Group takes health and happiness as two main strategic directions for the company over the next 10 years, and sports is the golden cross point for the two directions. Jack Ma has revealed he hopes that Alibaba will reach at least 102 years of history. And it is not possible to live that long without health and happiness.
Therefore, investments in sports are not only functional to reach this goal but they are also a means to make all Chinese people healthy and happy. And this is Alisports’ main mission.
MORE ON THIS TOPIC