Unleashing the Consumption Power of China’s Emerging Sports Enthusiasts

Unleashing the Consumption Power of China’s Emerging Sports Enthusiasts

Improving Health and Sharing Achievement on Social Media are Top Two Motivations

80% and 70% of the Population Purchased Sneakers and Sportswear in the previous year

Following recent policies in China promoting sports and physical education, the enthusiasm for sports and exercise continues to climb. Sports enthusiasts are gradually becoming a major opportunity for businesses. A recent study by Nielsen, the 2015 Sports Enthusiast Tracker, shows that 76% of consumer say a key reason for exercising is to “improve physical fitness,” while 60% say they enjoy posting about their achievements on social media.


According to the recently released “2014 National Fitness Survey” by the General Administration of Sports of China, compared with 2007, the percentage of urban and rural residents who regularly participate in physical exercise significantly increased, with higher level of consumption per capita. Consumers have begun “spending for health” and are now regarding healthy living as a fashionable lifestyle.

The survey also found that consumers that exercise regularly have a number of common characteristics. The top three characteristics include being well-educated, having above average income and more senior job positions. Average household monthly income was shown to reach 10,699 yuan, which is 36% higher than household that do not participate in sports activities. Additionally, 67% of exercise enthusiasts hold a bachelor’s degree or above, and 28% are working in mid to senior level job positions.

While a sporty lifestyle is becoming mainstream, the majority of consumers are looking out for their own health and not just catching up to a fashionable trend. According to respondents, the primary driving force behind exercise is improving health and physical fitness, with 79% of male respondents and 73% of female respondents saying it’s a top concern. The second key reason is different for men and women, with men (54%) mentioning their interest in a specific sport and women (48%) mentioning a desire to lose weight and keep fit.

The spending power of these sports enthusiasts is continuing to grow and should not be underestimate. According to data from Alibaba Group, more than 4.4 billion yuan worth of sporting goods was sold on “Double 11” this year, a rise of 55% compared with the previous year. Nielsen research also showed that 80% and 70% of the population purchased sneakers and sportswear respectively in the previous year. This also led to additional purchases such as sports drinks (61% of consumers purchased), sports equipment (41%), and gym or fitness memberships (30%)


Exercise and sports has become a large part of Chinese consumer’s social lives, with 60% saying that they enjoy posting pictures, stats or achievements about their sporting activities on social media. Wechat and Weibo are the key platforms for sharing.

The rising tendency of consumers to share or “show off” has also contributed to the rise of various sports and exercise related smartphone applications. Apps that record athletic performance have become a must have for sports lovers. Almost 60% of respondents have downloaded some type of sports app on their mobile phone. The app “”Codoon” has the highest rate of download at 21%, followed by the Nike + Running (16%), Nike training club (7%), and Adidas micoach (7% ).

The popularity of running continues to rise with more and more consumers participating in events such as marathons and color runs. Running is now the most preferred sport. The Nielsen study found that 71% of male consumers and 69% of females prefer running, followed by badminton (men 53%, women 58%). In addition, sports favored by men include basketball (44%) and swimming (38%), women tend prefer swimming (35%) and yoga (31%).

Another interesting finding is that, nearly 70% of respondents said they prefer running alone, and over ninety percent of consumer choose running outdoors at a frequency of 2.5 times per week. In the past year, the average cost spent on sports equipment has exceeded 900 yuan for runners, while sportswear and sports shoes also cost consumers more than 800 and 700 yuan respectively per year. It’s clear that runners are willing to spend on more than simply their running shoes.

Lynne Zhang, vice president of Nielsen China and leader of Sports Industry Research, commented,”The sports boom is just beginning in China, compared to developed countries. There is an enormous opportunity to develop and create massive growth for the industry. Take running as an example; Over 700 marathons were held in the United States last year and the number of runners that completed was about 7-8 times as many as China. In the fitness sector, there are 20% fewer gyms and fitness clubs than the United States and the number of gym membership is less than 10% that of the United States,” said Zhang. “From this perspective, China’s sports market has huge potential for development. And as segmentation and specialization continue, sports and athletic brands are expanding product lines and creating niche products to drive consumer demand.”


The Nielsen study found groups that participate in sports generally overlap with those that watch sporting events. More than 80% of consumers involved in sports in the last three-month have also watched sporting events. Football (63%), basketball (61%) and swimming (61%) are the most popular, and more than half of consumers surveyed said they watch badminton (53%).

Regarding football, the UEFA Champions League (39%) and the English Premier League (36%) rank high on the viewing list, with 8% of consumers watching a Chinese Super League game on site in the past year. Due to limited choice when it comes to basketball, attention also focused on the NBA (56%) and CBA (34%), while nearly half (48%) of the group watch both events.

 “Advertisers spend significantly on sports event sponsorship. However, this recent study shows that the return on this investment may be lower than expected. Sports is a good platform to reach out to specific audiences for brands with relevancy seeing the increasing interest and participant. However, advertisers should think about how to reach and engage sports fans more effectively in addition to traditional entitlements of the sponsorship. For example, leveraging a sports app or capturing the sharing opportunities on social media could be helpful in enhancing brand awareness, differentiation and preference, “said Zhang.


The research was conducted during September 23 to October 9, 2015 with those who have participated in sports or athletics or watched sporting events (defined as “sports enthusiasts”) within the past three months, The survey covered a total of more than 200 cities across China from tier 1 to tier 3 cities. Over 3,000 respondents between the ages of 16-45 years were surveyed. The study explored respondents’ sports participation, consumption, event viewing and other habits from multiple dimensions.


Nielsen Holdings plc (NYSE: NLSN) is a global performance management company that provides a comprehensive understanding of what consumers Watch and Buy. Nielsen’s Watch segment provides media and advertising clients with Total Audience measurement services across all devices where content — video, audio and text — is consumed. The Buy segment offers consumer packaged goods manufacturers and retailers the industry’s only global view of retail performance measurement. By integrating information from its Watch and Buy segments and other data sources, Nielsen provides its clients with both world-class measurement as well as analytics that help improve performance.  Nielsen, an S&P 500 company, has operations in over 100 countries that cover more than 90% of the world’s population. For more information, visit