Saturday, March 29, 2008

Nike in China

Just how big is Olympic gold medalist 110m hurdler Liu Xiang? Big just in China right? Let's try this.

Big enough for Nike to bestow upon him an honor given only to elite, status symbol defining athletes.

Every sport has a hero.

Tiger Woods is synonymous to Nike Golf.
Rohnaldinho is synonymous to Nike Futbol.
Michael Jordan is synonymous to Nike Basketball.





Zhang Han, a DJ based in Beijing wearing a Nike jacket that says China on the front

Now Nike is looking to make Liu Xiang synonymous to Nike Track and Field on sport's biggest stage at sport's biggest up and coming country. The 2008 Beijing Olympics. Even though Adidas paid over $80 million to become the official partner of the Olympics and is the official outfitter of all Chinese medal winners, this isn't stopping Nike from striking deals with big name athletes that are expected to be popular with all the Chinese watching this summer including Liu Xiang and Yi Jianlian and releasing exclusive Chinese themed sneakers and clothing.

Liu Xiang and Ronaldinho at the opening of Nike's flagship store in Beijing

Last month, Nike introduced a line of sneakers in China named 1984, commemorating the first time the country took part in the Olympics under Communist Party rule, winning 15 gold medals. The line features limited-edition retro sneakers with chunky red soles and decorated with yellow Chinese characters spelling the word for "breakthrough."

Liu Xiang and Ronaldinho at the opening of Nike's Beijing flagship store

Launched exclusively in China last June, the Nike Air Jordan 1 XQ China edition, with dragon-inspired patterns and red silk accents, was the first Air Jordan shoe designed with Chinese characteristics.

Last summer, Nike introduced shoes and sports clothes featuring Mr. Liu's date of birth, gold medals, and a picture of a star he drew as a child.

Such marketing tactics are actually a shift from recent years, when Nike promoted American-style individualism and U.S. sports starts, turning Michael Jordan and LeBron James into heros among young Chinese. In the past year, Tracey McGrady and Kobe Bryant have been the highest selling NBA jerseys in China over the past year... shockingly enough, Yao Ming's jersey has been sitting at number 6. Now after seeing Liu Xiang, Yao Ming and Yi Jianlian launched into phenomenal success in the international spotlight, the Chinese are getting antsy to see their athletic profile to explode like their newfound economic success.

A Nike wushu uniform on display at the 9th World Wushu Championships in Beijing last November.

Only adding onto the Chinese's hunger is seeing athletes from rival Asian countries spring into American sports stardom in sports that the Chinese has so far been unable to penetrate. Suzuki Ichiro, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Matsui (which just got married btw, congratulations!!) are revered as deities of baseball in their homeland of Japan, most of them with museums dedicated to them in their hometowns. Golfers KJ Choi and Jeong Jang are Korean barrier breakers. Chien-Ming Wang of the New York Yankees is nothing less of a national hero in Taiwan.

So while China overshadows Japan, Korea and Taiwan in just about everything else, the athletic successes and accomplishments of these three countries seems to level the playing field with the behemoth country.

So while Yao Ming, Yi Jianlian and Liu Xiang are undeniable international sports superstars, China wants more...

China is capable of more...

China is destined for more.

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