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Infront president Philippe Blatter watches China blossom into huge market for basketball
XI'AN - If there is one person that can evaluate the sports climate in China and basketball's ever-growing presence in the Far East, it's Philippe Blatter.
The President and CEO of Infront Sports and Media, a company that has been around for more than 16 years and has, since 2015, been a part of the Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group, Blatter makes frequent trips to the Far East country where the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 will be staged.
"BASKETBALL HAS BEEN VERY VISIONARY TO BE IN CHINA SO EARLY. IT'S GOING TO BE A GLOBAL EVENT OF THE MAGNITUDE OF THE FIFA WORLD CUP THAT WE'VE SEEN THIS YEAR IN RUSSIA."
He's in China every other week and is witnessing first hand how the game has put itself in a strong position in one of the most important sports markets.
Speaking at last month's FIBA World Basketball Summit in the Chinese city of Xi'an, Blatter said: “I came to China for the first time in 1994 and more intensively since I joined Infront in 2005 and then very intensively in 2015 when Wanda acquired Infront.
"One of the key dates for me was the (Beijing) Olympic Games in 2008. I saw at that moment that China really has the goal to become a power nation in sports. Over the last 10 years, I've seen so many changes in the landscape of sports.
"I've noticed the commitment of the government of the highest authorities, not just the central government but the local governments of the cities, there have been huge investments in sports, and infrastructure.
"I’ve seen a huge change in the way companies, Chinese businesses, are seeing sport as a platform to promote their products, as a way to showcase what they have.
"And also the digitization of the country, the way the consumer, and especially the Chinese who are so connected with their mobile and everything. We also speak about esports. I believe there is a Tsunami coming or already here in China of taking over China in esports as it already does in Europe and the United States."
One only needs set foot in China to see the extraordinary interest in all things basketball. It surely looks like the ideal place to stage the World Cup as it has an expanded format from 24 to now 32 teams, with eight cities staging Group Phase games.
"Here is another place where basketball is so much further ahead than football because the FIBA Basketball World Cup comes next year to China," he said.
"Basketball has been very visionary to be in China so early. It's going to be a global event of the magnitude of the FIFA World Cup that we've seen this year in Russia. It's a main event next year and we're very proud to be a part of bringing this event to the world."
Blatter also offered some insight on traditional media and the profound change that has been ushered in with digital technology.
"NEW DIGITAL OPPORTUNITIES OPENS UP THE ACCESS TO NEW FANS, AND TO BRING CONTENT TO FANS. I THINK IT'S RIGHT THAT WE HAVE THE CHANCE TO REACH MANY MORE FANS AROUND THE WORLD. WHAT'S IMPORTANT IS HOW TO ENGAGE WITH THEM. IT’S ONE THING TO REACH, BUT ANOTHER THING TO ENGAGE."
"Today, with traditional media, it’s very difficult to reach the 16 to 35 (age)," he said. "The reason is they do not consume TV the way we did. They use their mobile, their tablets, but even then, I believe that we need to better understand to use their communication channels.
"All the fans are content creators. I see this, I have twin boys, they are 14, teenagers, when they go to a sports event, they record the way you feel as a fan, how you feel in the corner with all the fans. Then they post it, on Instagram, on youtube, on their channel, the channels that are not mine.
"Then they speak their language, not mine. I think it’s important in the next stage for the brands and for the rights holder not just to create the content and distribute it, but to do it on the channels of our fans and to use their channels, their language, their way of dressing and use also the content they create.
"New digital opportunities opens up the access to new fans, and to bring content to fans. I think it’s right that we have the chance to reach many more fans around the world. What’s important is how to engage with them. It’s one thing to reach, but another thing to engage."