What other sports can learn from Table Tennis about how to approach China

Here are three interesting facts that you may not have known.

The first is that the International Table Tennis Federation’s World Team Cup is taking place in London this weekend.

The second is that table tennis was invented in London, where the ITTF was founded in the 1920s – a trivial nugget proclaimed by Boris Johnson in Beijing in 2008 as he prepared, in his capacity as Mayor of London, to accept the handover of the Olympic Games from the capital of China to the capital of Britain: “Wiff-waff’s coming home,” he quipped.

The third is that the ITTF has 2.6 million followers on social media, making it one of the best-followed federations of any of the Olympic Sports. That’s because of the sport’s popularity in China – something which is looking more and more like the holy grail for the most popular sports in the Western world, who are increasingly looking to Asia for growth.

All of these facts can be found on this week’s Digital Sport Insider podcast, where Dan McLaren sat down with Matt Pound, Head of Communications at ITTF.

Table tennis isn’t a sport which traditionally gains too much traction in the UK, probably because the Great British Olympic team isn’t a world beater when it comes to the game, but there are signs that this might be changing.

The arrival of the Team World Cup to London, where the ITTF can claim that the sport is indeed coming home, should help.

Over the last few years, though, we’ve seen leagues and teams from the traditional powerhouses of European and North American sports attempt to break through in Asian markets, which they feel are often under- tapped. Table tennis, however, is already there and can provide plenty of inspiration for other sports who are certainly behind the ITTF in breaking into the continent, and particularly China. It is certainly in a great position to take advantage for itself.

“We have a Chinese media team, so it’s up to them to be keeping on top of the trends and discussions and the new technologies in China, and the platforms that we need to be on,” Pound told the Digital Sport Insider pod.

“When we first set up our Chinese media platforms, it was basically just translating our content on Facebook and putting it on the Chinese platforms. That worked to some extent, but we found that it’s key to have local Chinese content.”

It’s been clear for some time that there’s no substitute for the hard work that comes with setting up a presence in a new country. An arm’s length approach won’t work when you’re trying to woo a Chinese audience – like in most other countries, fans are more interested in their own stars than international players. Getting to know the social media platforms which are popular in the country is also of vital importance: something which is impossible to do properly without a dedicated Chinese team based in the country.

“Chinese fans want to hear about Chinese players, Chinese competitions and Chinese tournaments. Of course they want to hear about the other international players who are playing in the tournaments, but we found that less international content and more localised content is key,” he said.

“It’s important to have someone living on the ground who’s inside the Chinese social media discussion on a daily basis both professionally and personally because you need to be knowing what you actually like on your own social media in order to be talking to the fans. Our biggest recommendation would be to find someone local and not just replicating what you’re already doing on your Western social media channels.”

About author

Chris McMullan
Chris McMullan 831 posts

Chris is a sports journalist and editor of Digital Sport - follow him on Twitter @CJMcMullan_

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