By Michael Rand
Paige Bromen, a junior on the U of M golf team and special guest blogger, takes us through more of her whirlwind tour of China. Her time there studying the globalization of sports is nearing a close.
This morning our group traveled to the Shanghai Planning Museum. The Museum is put on by the central government as a means of showing their implementation strategies. The exhibits were interesting and impressive; however, the question I keep asking myself is, where’s the money coming from? Or, as my friend Chanda put it, “have they heard of fiscal responsibility?” I have to question the government’s motives a bit when I hear about the disparities between the rich and poor and how the gap seems to be ever increasing.
After a quick lunch, we headed to Ager Company, a landscape architecture firm owned by Minnesota graduate, Ma Xiaowei. The 70-strong firm handles projects dealing with urban greenscapes, resorts, and golf courses. After a quick 20 minute presentation by the owner, associate Thomas Payne, a 55 year-old native of Boston, continued the talk and gave us a tour. Overall, the meeting had little to do with sports and centered mostly on how the company aims to make the world more sustainable and aesthetic at the same time. The buzz words thrown out multiple times were that, “the world is flat;” and that we should “only connect.” Payne wanted to drive home the point that China is where the money is and if we were smart, each of us would use the trip as a springboard for future business opportunities.
I liked both of the take home messages provided, but I have to admit, I wish Mr. Payne could have spoken a little more about their golf course development projects. I’m afraid these days I have little more than a one-track mind (I resorted to buying a Golf Digest in Mandarin at the Beijing Airport just so I could look at the pictures).
What a day! Everyone in the group had the morning off, but since I’m only in China once, I resisted the urge to sleep in. I’m pretty sure I found the perfect gift for my parents by word of mouth, but unfortunately I had no address for the shop that sold them. After about an hour of searching, I found the place with a little more luck than skill.
Rushing from the store, I hopped in a taxi to meet the rest of the group for a luncheon with The Wall Street Journal beat reporter, Gordon Fairclough. The lunch was absolutely the highlight of my trip. Mr. Fairclough had a wide base of knowledge and didn’t sidestep any of the hard questions. My interest focused mainly on the global marketing schemes of sports powerhouses like Nike and Adidas. According to the speaker, two avenues are being used to break into the Chinese market. One strategy is to localize the product by sponsoring leagues and local courts. Another is to continue its original ad campaigns as if you are not in a different country. Nike has opted for option number one, with billboards boasting mostly non-superstars in Chinese costume and by sponsoring basketball courts like the ones I played on in Beijing — another reason for this approach might be that Yao Ming looks like Igor from the Adams Family to most Chinese women (Fairclough’s words, not mine). Dissimilarly, Adidas has brought their “Impossible is Nothing,” campaign to the table. Each option has its pros and cons, but it always comes down to cost-benefit ratios and how much a company is willing to invest.
Mr. Fairclough answered my next question just as succinctly. If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I am trying to figure out how the government funds its projects and why everyone seems so health conscientious yet smokes a pack a day. Well, let’s just say there is little separation between the state and the commodity. More specifically, cigarette manufacturing itself is owned by the central government AND imposes taxes on the product. This revenue makes up 8%-50% of funding, and leaves no doubt why anti-smoking ads haven’t hit the streets.
After lunch, some of us took a quick walk through the French Concession and then made our way back to the hotel. Unfortunately, one of the gifts I bought for my mom and dad got ruined along the way. I tried to fix it a bit, but being the daughter of a perfectionist means I will most likely trek over to the Yuyuan Gardens again and replace it (sigh).