David Owen

Eighty-seven days, one hour, 10 minutes and 53, 52, 51 seconds: Beijing 2022 is less than three months away, which makes it high time to take a look at the domestic sponsorship roster.

Based on the official website, there are currently 45 local sponsors, excluding the 14 multinationals which have bought into the International Olympic Committee (IOC)’s The Olympic Partner, or TOP, worldwide sponsorship programme.

The value of sponsorship deals to the Movement has risen fast since Rio 2016, unlike broadcasting, the IOC's other main revenue stream, so this is an area well worth keeping an eye on.

The first thing I notice is that the line-up of top-tier domestic partners includes not one, but two oil and gas companies. This dovetails, well, interestingly with the recent disclosure that the IOC has signed up to the United Nations’ Race to Zero campaign aimed at reducing carbon emissions.

I also note from the original July 2018 media release that the pair - Sinopec, which "in terms of total number of gas stations…is second to only one other company in the world", and China National Petroleum Corporation, "the third largest oil company in the world" - are sharing something rejoicing in the name of "co-exclusive rights".

I wonder what Patrick Nally, doyen of a sports marketing sector that has exploited the same basic category-specific model for four decades would make of this "co-exclusivity" wheeze? Do you think you missed something there, Patrick?

I know just how my editor would react if I offered him a "co-exclusive".

Beijing 2022 has managed to sign up more than one sponsor in several categories, including beer where Tsingtao are sharing it with rival Yanjing ©Beijing 2022
Beijing 2022 has managed to sign up more than one sponsor in several categories, including beer where Tsingtao are sharing it with rival Yanjing ©Beijing 2022

To be fair, Beijing 2022 seems to have engaged in this sort of doubling up of sponsors quite a bit.

There are also two electricity companies in the line-up of Official Partners, even if one - State Grid Corporation of China - is described as provider and the other - China Three Gorges Corporation - as producer.

Beer brands Tsingtao and Yanjing share billing as second-tier Official Sponsors, while still lower down the pecking-order, Nabel and Dongpeng are both Official Ceramic Tiles Suppliers. I daresay somebody will know whether this is an Olympic "first".

While we were told in 2019 that a Shangri-La hotel in Beijing’s Shougang Industrial Park would be the official hotel for Beijing 2022, there is, as far as I can ascertain, no hotel sponsor among the 45 brands displayed on the website.

This seems a noteworthy omission. Does it reflect, I wonder, the strong expectation that few foreign visitors will come to China for the Winter Olympics? This, incidentally, would be a crying shame: the Games’ role in fostering a degree of cultural cross-pollination has always been one of the event’s strongest suits. With nationalism rising, it is all the more important to grasp opportunities to counter one-eyed narratives about other countries and their inhabitants which feed off ignorance.

There are very few Western brands in the domestic sponsorship line-up, even though China is a key market for so many.

The two that jump out are Snickers, the confectionery brand and PwC, the accountants. Far from coincidentally, I suspect, I read earlier this week that PwC plans to double the size of its presence in China over the next five years, creating 20,000 jobs in the process.

Official Sponsor Yum China also warrants a mention in this context, since it has "the exclusive right to operate and sub-license the KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell brands in China", plus a partnership with coffee brand Lavazza.

Even so, the international presence on the Beijing 2008 domestic sponsorship roster was far more extensive, with the likes of Adidas, Budweiser, BHP Billiton, Aggreko, Staples and Schenker Logistics all on the list, as well as Volkswagen, whose category has since been absorbed by the TOP programme.

Back then, while the Chinese economy was already stirring, there was essentially no such thing as a top global Chinese brand. 

Writing in the Guardian Weekly in 2007, the business commentator Will Hutton observed: "China has not a single brand in the world’s top 100, despite the projection that it will become the world’s largest exporter in 2008…In essence it is a subcontractor to the West."

Nowadays, China has internationally-recognised brands aplenty, with Kantar BrandZ recently valuing the 100 most valuable at a stunning $1.56 trillion (£1.15 trillion/€1.35 trillion).

Chocolate bar Snickers is one of the few Western companies among the roster of Beijing 2022 sponsors ©Beijing 2022
Chocolate bar Snickers is one of the few Western companies among the roster of Beijing 2022 sponsors ©Beijing 2022

Yet, by and large, the very biggest Chinese brands do not seem to feature on the Beijing 2022 sponsorship roster.

Yes, most of the 11 top-tier Official Partners are in Kantar’s top 100, but I can see none higher than Yili in 24th spot. Appliance-maker Haier, China’s 11th-most valuable brand, sponsored Beijing 2008 but does not so far appear on the Beijing 2022 list.

This is partly a categorisation issue: many of the categories it would have made most sense for the biggest Chinese brands to sign up for are in the TOP programme and therefore taken, in China and everywhere else, by non-Chinese multinationals.

Alibaba, moreover, the number two brand in Kantar’s list behind Tencent, is in the TOP programme itself. Mengniu, which nowadays shares the non-alcoholic beverage category with Coca-Cola, is ranked 32 by Kantar.

You might have thought though that, if the desire for the very biggest brands to get involved were great enough, someone would have found a way. Their absence up to this point therefore strikes me as interesting.

As far as I can make out, nine of the 11 Official Partners of Beijing 2022 are directly state-controlled.

Suffice to say, the hand of strongman-President Xi Jinping’s Chinese state is likely to rest very heavy on these Winter Olympics. No surprise there.

Western broadcasters will find just enough to cherry-pick for their audiences: ice hockey for North America; skiing for Alpine Europe and Scandinavia; figure skating for Japan and Russia.

The IOC I fancy will pocket its money, breathe a deep sigh of relief and move on.