Global outrage, broken contracts and shifting politics could change the calculus for leagues and teams that once raced to do business in China.The WTA Tour hosted nine events in China in 2019. It’s unclear when, or if, it will return there.Credit…Lintao Zhang/Getty ImagesPublished Nov. 24, 2021Updated Dec. 1, 2021To hear more audio stories from publications…
The rewards for international sports leagues and organizations are plain: lucrative broadcast deals, bountiful sponsorship opportunities, millions of new consumers.
The risks are obvious, too: the compromising of values, the public relations nightmares, the general atmosphere of opacity.
For years, they have surveyed the Chinese market, measured these factors and come up with the same basic math: that the benefits of doing business there outweighed the possible downsides. The N.B.A. might blunder into a humbling political crisis based on a single tweet, and rich contracts might vanish into thin air overnight, but China, the thinking went, was a potential gold mine. And for that reason leagues, teams, governing bodies and athletes contorted themselves for any chance to tap into it.
But recent events may have changed that thinking for good, and raised a new question: Is doing business in China still worth it?
The sports world received a hint last week of a changing dynamic when the WTA — one of many organizations that have worked aggressively over the last decade to establish a foothold in the Chinese market — threatened to stop doing business there altogether if the government failed to confirm the safety of Peng Shuai. Peng, a top women’s tennis player once hailed by state media as “our Chinese princess,” disappeared from public life recently after accusing a prominent former government official of sexual assault.
The WTA’s threat was remarkable not only for its reasoning, but for its rarity.