Five million Chinese took part in over 1,100 running events in the whole country in 2017. Fifty-four marathons took place on a single day in April 2017: the Chinese are increasingly becoming a nation of runners. In just a few years, running has become the largest sport for Chinese amateur sports enthusiasts.
From the business point of view, runners in China are a particularly attractive target group: the market researchers at Nielsen emphasize that for many Chinese, running equates to lifestyle and status. The majority of runners are from the middle classes and have a higher level of education, i.e. at least a college degree. "The most important reason for participating in sports in China is a healthier lifestyle," says Robin Trebbe, Intersport Managing Director China & Asia Pacific at the Running Forum of ISPO Shanghai.
Companies targeting runners are tapping into a wealthy clientele with a high propensity for consumption. Even if running itself is not expensive, people need to be able to afford to take up the sport: training takes time and runners who want to participate in competitions have to invest in entry fees and travel expenses.
Chinese runners also like buying additional equipment such as wearables for training, MP3 players, running backpacks, headlamps and, of course, functional clothing. Trebbe also presents figures at ISPO Shanghai showing that sales of running products in China 2017 were up 25 percent in 2017 compared to the previous year.
Chinese runners are not just an ever-growing target group for sporting goods firms. Sponsors for example can easily reach a large number of runners at events or via digital tools. That also applies to Western firms, since many European and US firms are particularly popular in China. Mercedes was the first sponsor for the Shanghai Marathon, and BMW is a partner for the 2018 event taking place in November.
The run in China’s largest city was first held in 1996 with 5,000 participants, and that figure had grown to 38,000 in 2016. Now the starting positions are allocated in a lottery procedure. But runners have plenty of other opportunities to run a marathon. The Chinese Track and Field Athletics Federation is forecasting that there will be over 800 marathons a year by 2020. Over ten million runners are expected to take part.