Online player Sport8 moves into soccer sector

By Emma Gonzalez(China Daily)
Updated: 2015-11-23 07:16:47

A group of children pose for the camera during a training session organized by Sport8 in Beijing. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Sport8 invests $1.5 million into its business model, but is already pulling in sponsorship deals

Entrepreneur Bai Qiang is so confident that the business of soccer will be the next big trend that his company pumped 10 million yuan ($1.5 million) into an online venture.

Sport8 was launched last year and has already raked in 5 million yuan in sponsorship deals from international companies such as Italian sportswear group Kappa Kids and Gatorade Co Inc, the giant beverage firm in the United States.

Set up with the help of China's most famous sports commentator Huang Jianxiang and former Dutch national star Wesley Sneijder, the company specializes in soccer education.

"We see a great business opportunity in coaching children in the skills of soccer because the government is pushing for sports development to be the next big industry in China," CEO Bai said.

Sport8, which has also created summer soccer camps with major English Premier League clubs Arsenal and Manchester United, has a simple business plan.

Most of the $1.5 million in financing has been plowed into developing a mobile app and training coaches across China.

Prospective coaches sign up on the app and are trained free of charge. The app also helps parents find established soccer schools for their children.

"We have Internet tools that help us recruit people who want to become coaches," Bai said. "Then, our mobile app connects them with parents and soccer schools who are looking for their skills."

Most of the coaches are part-time and joined the online program because of their love for the game and the chance to earn extra cash.

This business model is based on Uber Technologies Inc, the car service company that puts part-time taxi drivers in contact with potential passengers in the United States and 57 other countries.

"In China, teaching soccer to kids has been generally considered a hobby rather than a full-time job because it is not particularly well-paid," Bai said. "That is why we decided to opt for a business model similar to Uber's."

Due to the lack of qualified coaches in China, Sport8 provides professional training free with the help of 37 foreign coaches, mainly from the Netherlands.

"Using foreign coaches is a good idea since China's coaching system is quite weak," Xerman Lopez, a professional Spanish soccer coach in Beijing, said. "The app can be useful if soccer is regarded as an entertainment activity."

Sport8's plan is not only to help nurture the country's next generation of soccer stars but to get more children interested in playing the game.

So far, more than 60,000 potential coaches have registered on the platform, while 10,000 have already received professional training.

The app also has close to 130,000 parents signed up in search of soccer clinics or private coaches for their children.

"In eight months from now, we would like to reach a target of 5 million members and 1.2 million regular users," Bai said, adding that Sport8 operates in 47 cities.

Tuition fees vary, depending on the location. In large cities such as Beijing, a training session of 90 minutes is usual 200 yuan.

In smaller cities, the cost can be low as 100 yuan. Payment is made online through Wechat, developed by Tencent Holdings Ltd, or Alipay, part of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.

"The fees only cover tuition and the costs of renting the pitch. We do not make a profit here," Bai, who has yet to release detailed financial figures for the company, such as revenue numbers, said.

But he did point out that sponsorship deals, similar to ones put together with Chinese sports equipment brand Xtep, as well as advertising and selling soccer products will bring in cash.

Additional income will also be generated from the company's business tie up with China's Ministry of Education to train physical education teachers across the country.

By 2020, the ministry calculates there will be 20 million children playing soccer in schools. That means one in ten students will need to be coached by qualified teachers.

"We would like to reach 3,000 schools by June next year," Bai said. This is a big opportunity for us."

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