Is China’s winter sports market the next battleground for sports brands?

As the Beijing Winter Olympics fast approach, the Japanese sportswear brand Descente is ready to warm up winter sports enthusiasts by opening its first global experience centre at the city’s Sanlitun Village, as reported by the Chinese media outlet United Business Network on 20 November.

Known as Descente Kinetic Lab (DKL), the global centre provides a ski-themed retail space integrating a museum on the company’s history and a high-end consumer experience. With a floor area of 1,200 square metres, the first floor showcases the brand’s flagship products ski apparel and equipment infused with cutting-edge technology and designs.

While a mini-museum has been installed on the second floor, offering a throwback to some of the brand’s innovation milestones, the main focus is on their current product lines.

The immersive experience centre is a close step by Descente in a bid to engage with Chinese consumers following the launch of Descente Blanc. It is Descente’s first overseas brand concept space, which opened last November in Beijing, showing the brand’s great appetite for gaining a share of one of the most lucrative global markets.

However, the brand is no stranger to the Chinese market, having entered China five years ago through a joint venture with the Chinese sportswear giant Anta. The brand might have already eyed the country’s ski industry, following the announcement in 2015 of Beijing and its neighbouring cities such as Zhangjiakou, as host of the 2022 Winter Olympics. This new experience centre is another step-up in preparations for the Olympics which DKL has been building towards in regard to China for several years.

With the Chinese government pouring billions into building winter sports infrastructures, the country had seen numbers of ski resorts rise to 646 in 2016, compared with 11 twenty years ago, according to EU SME Centre, a research centre funded by the European Union.

Such push, in the meantime, has driven the transformation of sports like skiing from a niche professional event to a stylish entertainment that has drawn the most interest from China’s young generations, specifically, those between 20 and 30 age groups. This shows the shrewd nature of DKL’s move, not only looking to sweep in on the hype of the Olympics itself, but also the Chinese government and changing opinions within the youth of China.

It was only recently that the winter sports industry has seen a boom at home, with the Chinese ski market still young but believed to be on track for fast growth. As a result, this untapped market is likely to be the next battleground for sports brands to win over the country’s young consumers.

Unlike the elder generation, young people are looking for a rich purchasing experience on top of the functionality of a product. The global experience centre, introduced by Descente, shows an example of brands’ efforts in responding to the latest consumer demand. While such practice might soon become commonplace for brands who would like to leverage the country’s growing enthusiasm for winter sports with more players expected to join the race.

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