Alibaba’s coming for sports fans

Alibaba’s sports subsidiary is taking a “Moneyball” approach to maximize the way sports fans shop and consume their favorite sports.


January 25, 2019

Chinese sports fans, ready yourselves: Tipoff is around the corner, the ping pong balls are flying, and Alibaba is ready to score a goal with your data… clearly we’re having a hard time threading the needle.

Jack Ma’s sports subsidiary, Alisports, plans to use Alibaba’s ever-growing ecosystem of e-commerce, data-driven logistics, and entertainment (and its massive user base) to boost the way sports fans shop.

A targeted approach

Alibaba has been trying for years to figure out how to increase sporting goods sales and other related merchandise on its platforms — which, at $11.2B in 2017, totaled 1/10th the US sports market.

In the same way that sports teams use data to maximize performance, Alisports will use data to track user spending habits to get the most out of the way fans consume, interact, and participate in their favorite pastimes — as Bloomberg reports, it’s like “Moneyball” for e-commerce.

Not the usual Alibaba game plan

So, how will it work? Alibaba will allow viewers to send messages (and even ‘virtual gifts’) to marathon runners through its media platform, Youku. In return, Alibaba will collect information from its sports fans — and then use it to sell them everything from running shoes to health insurance.

It’s a hail-mary strategy — so, with the economy threatening a downturn, Alisports plans to start slow, using the marathon as a testing ground before expanding to China’s more expensive sports tournaments.

“Right now isn’t a great time to explore futile experiments…” said Alisports CEO Zhang Dazhong. “Winter might be arriving soon for the economy, [and] it might be fierce.”

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