There has been an explosion of interest in winter sports in China and Zhou Yunjie wants to work with the NHL as a conduit to that market. The feeling is mutual.
LOS ANGELES – High above the ridiculousness that is the NHL All-Star Game, a 55-year-old Chinese billionaire looks on from his suite at the Staples Center. It’s the ultimate juxtaposition on a couple of levels. Chinese billionaires don’t often attend hockey games and this game doesn’t really represent anything remotely close to NHL hockey. At one point, an associate who hands out wooden business cards that cost five bucks each, pulls up a clip on his smart phone of a goalie making a diving save.
“I goalie,” the Chinese billionaire says proudly.
Meet Zhou Yunjie, the chairman of a company called ORG Packaging based in Beijing. In 2016, he was ranked No. 271 on Forbes’ China Rich List with a net worth of $1.2 billion, up from No. 348 the year before. When you’re this rich and accomplished, people call you Mister. So most people in North America refer to him as Mr. Zhou (pronounced JOE). And if he hadn’t already existed, there’s a good chance the NHL would have tried to invent him.
A billionaire whose goal is to grow hockey in the world’s most fertile and unexplored market? Are you kidding? With the 2022 Winter Olympics going to Beijing, there has been an explosion of interest in winter sports in China, a market that is continually grasping the concept of sports as a form of entertainment. And Zhou wants to work with the NHL as a conduit to that market.
“We are looking forward to future cooperation with the NHL,” Zhou told THN.com through a translator during all-star weekend. “I would really like to work with them.”
And the feeling is mutual. Deputy commissioner Bill Daly recently returned from a trip to China where he had meetings with seven different governmental and private sector companies in three days. ORG already has partnerships with the Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals and Los Angeles Kings. In fact, the Bruins will be holding their second ORG Night Sunday when they host the Montreal Canadiens and Zhou will be on hand to conduct the ceremonial faceoff. ORG was a sponsor of the World Cup of Hockey, had board advertising at the All-Star Game and currently has a deal with young Bruins’ star David Pastrnak. Daly told THN.com that the NHL and ORG are “in an advanced stage of discussions,” to have ORG on board as a league sponsor.
“Hockey is the No. 1 sport on ice. It’s marketable and there’s a big market there."
“We are thrilled with the relationship we and our clubs have established with Mr. Zhou and the interest he has shown, and the investment he has made, in the NHL,” Daly said in an email to THN.com. “Certainly it is helpful to have that relationship as we attempt to broaden and deepen our ties with the Chinese business community. But what we are finding is Mr. Zhou is not alone in his interest in hockey. There seems to be a real appetite in the Chinese business community to associate with the North American sports business. And we think we can be a beneficiary of that.”
The NBA has had a foothold in China for more than two decades now. This past year marked the 10th edition of the China Games featuring preseason games between two NBA teams, something the NHL hopes to replicate next fall with exhibition games featuring the Kings and Vancouver Canucks. The NBA is now a huge part of Chinese culture, aided by the fact that homegrown 7-foot-6 center Yao Ming had a Hall of Fame career with the Houston Rockets. Zhou Qi, a 7-foot-2 forward who was drafted in the second round last June by the Houston Rockets, is currently playing in the Chinese Basketball Association and hopes to follow in Ming’s footsteps.
As is the case with most non-traditional hockey markets, there is almost no grassroots connection to the game and that is a huge obstacle. But even that might be changing. The Chinese government is trying to build between 200 and 300 indoor rinks in the next couple of years and, funded by Zhou’s company, young Chinese players have been making pilgrimages to both Boston and Washington to do skill development with NHL teams. Two dozen young Chinese players just completed a 12-day camp at the Capitals practice facility and 25 more will spend the next couple of weeks working with the Bruins.
Zhou said there are currently about 2,000 kids and 100 clubs playing in the Beijing area, a number he said will grow with more state sponsorship of the game.
“People’s lives in China are getting better and they are turning to the concept of competition in the sports into entertainment,” said Richard Zhang, president of Ocean 24 Sports and Entertainment, who helps Zhou put together his deals in North America. “Hockey is the No. 1 sport on ice. It’s marketable and there’s a big market there. That’s why (Zhou) is putting his energy into this.”
It all started with a lunch meeting during the World Cup. Judd Moldaver, an agent with the CAA Agency that represents Pastrnak, thought it would be a good idea for Kings president of business operations, Luc Robitaille to meet Zhou. The Kings’ parent company, AEG, owns the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai and the MasterCard Center in Beijing.
Source : http://www.thehockeynews.com/news/article/meet-the-chinese-billionaire-who-wants-to-grow-hockey-in-the-world-s-biggest-market