US-style professional wrestling is leaping off the top ropes and into the Chinese market. From Friday, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) is making its video streaming service available in the mainland. The part-sport, part soap-opera joins a long list of sports eager to tap into a new customer base. Industry-watchers say finding local stars will be key to its success. Local partnerWWE’s service will be available through its Chinese partner PPTV, with subscribers required to download an app to access the content. Past events have “received a great response from WWE fans in China,” according to Godfrey Zeng, executive vice president of Suning Sports Media, parent company of PPTV.China has held a number of WWE events over the years, and there’s even a local WWE-style wrestling organisation, but this is the first time an entire channel devoted to WWE will be available. The network will feature WWE’s major live events and original series, as well as reality shows and classic matches. The organisation is kicking things off by making one of its marquee events SummerSlam, which takes place on Monday, available live in Mandarin. Crowded marketSports ranging from mixed martial arts to Australian rules football have all been trying their luck in China.
Other sports have managed to capitalise on the success of Chinese stars. The country’s huge population means that most organisations would only need a small share of the market to see a return on their investment, but some industry watchers caution that it’s not as easy it might seem. “Everyone’s trying to break into China, and you’ve all got those much more established sports. Then you’ve got things like rugby, and combat sports and they’re all trying to compete for the same demographic,” said Mark Dreyer, who runs the Inside China Sports website. Two-time grand slam champion Li Na helped to make tennis more popular, while Chinese NBA star Yao Ming made a huge difference to basketball’s popularity.