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How brands can tap into the rise of Ultimate Frisbee in China

by Antoaneta Becker
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Ultimate Frisbee and other niche sports are taking off in China, and international brands like Lululemon and Nike are taking note. Qing Na from Dao Insights examines how the rise of these sports offers useful lessons about marketing to a Gen Z audience in China

Despite making its way to China over 30 years ago, the game of ultimate frisbee has only recently risen to become a popular form of social currency amongst China’s Gen Z crowd. The emergence of this sport is very similar to China’s recent embracing of glamping; it’s an outdoor activity with low barriers to entry and minimum equipment needed.

Not only is Ultimate Frisbee easy to play, but the inclusive nature of this mixed-gender sport has also added to its appeal with a young demographic, who are using it as a tool for socialising. As a result, the activity is reported to have drawn in over half a million players in 2021, taking first place as China’s most beloved niche sport in 2022.

The enthusiasm was soon reflected on China’s largest lifestyle-sharing platform, Xiaohongshu, which also acts as a trend indicator for Gen Z. Frisbee-related content surged sixfold and amassed 570 million accumulated views in the past year, according to the Top 10 2022 Lifestyle Trends published by the platform.

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The ultimate frisbee craze was encouraged by the latest notice issued by the General Administration of Sport of China earlier this July announcing the launch of the first China Frisbee League, which was held at a sports centre in Duyi Heritage Park in Xi’an, Shaanxi province. As the news arrived, Xiaohongshu doubled down on its bid on the sport by becoming the official content community for this event. These actions signal a growing recognition of the popular activity, pushing the transformation of frisbee from a niche exercise to the mainstream.

The momentum that frisbee has also had an influence on the fashion industry, with seamless yoga outfits seeing growing traction amongst frisbee players, drawing in sports brands. So far, Norwegian athletic shoe company Hoka and Japanese high-end winter sports brand Descente (which was acquired by Chinese brand Anta) have broadened their product ranges to tap into the frisbee sensation.

Meanwhile, global labels such as Lululemon and Nike, as well as Chinese sun protection unicorn Beneunder, have made efforts to foster communities of frisbee lovers. Lululemon partnered with one of China’s two biggest frisbee start-ups, Yikun Discs, and added this new sport to the routine outdoor activities for its Sweat Community.

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The popularity of the sport isn’t just limited to offline communities. In the metaverse, Chinese brand 361 Degree Sports intends to feature frisbees in one of its first NFT-powered digital collections, a collaboration with popular art toy brand FATKO. This has increased the exposure of the sport amongst a young demographic through digital buzz, while strengthening 361 Degree Sports’ connection with its target audience using timely action.

China’s core market for ultimate frisbee (which includes businesses offering frisbee production; sales; venue and training service providers, and competition organisers) is reported to have reached a market scale of RMB 7.5 billion (£917 million) as of 2021, which has also stimulated the growth of related market segments (including activewear, social events, hospitality, and entertainment venues) valued at a total of RMB 86.8 billion (£10.6 billion) by the end of 2021.

With ultimate frisbee expected to grow to a sizeable RMB 64.5 billion (£7.9 billion) by 2027, the additional value generated by related industries is set to hit RMB 652.4 billion (£79.7 billion) in the same timeframe. So as not to miss out on a slice of this market (or other niche sports markets like it), brands should be more active in engaging with local players by providing more experiential activities or incorporating sport with other marketing efforts to create a richer consumer experience, therefore resonating with the target community while maintaining their appeal to existing customers with diversified offerings.

Call +44 (0)20 7802 2000 or email enquiries@cbbc.org now to find out how CBBC’s market research and analysis services can provide you with the information you need to succeed in China.

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