China’s road running market forecast to surpass US-Sino-US

China’s road running market forecast to surpass US
Sports brands are looking to tap into more diversified necessities of female Chinese runners. Photos:
Long-distance running has become the most-loved pastime in China. According to data from the Chinese Athletics Association (CAA), from 2011 to 2017, the number of events increased 50 times, while the number of participants grew 12 times.

Over 600 sports brands from more than 10 countries showcased their products at the just-concluded ISPO Shanghai 2018, the world’s largest outdoor expo. It’s reported by, a Shanghai-based news portal, that gear and equipment related to running represented the biggest chunk of exhibits.

“China’s sports market will outpace that of the United States in the future three to four years, with running-related segments making the most out of the boom,” an unnamed guest speaker was quoted as saying at a forum during the three-day event.

The growth spurt of China’s long-distance running market has been proven by official data.

In 2017, there were a total of 1,100 national marathon or other kinds of road running races in China, compared to a mere 22 events in 2011.

Over 5 million runners joined the races in 2017, with an increase of 2.2 million year-on-year. In 2011, there were 400,000 participants for the 22 events.

The explosive growth continued in 2018. During an April weekend, it’s known that 250,000 runners took park in 50 running races.

Some Chinese netizens joked about the explosion in the number of events, “There will soon be not enough runners (for the many events).”

China boasts a $42 billion sports market, becoming the second-biggest market next to the United States, indicated Robin Trebbe, the Asia Pacific general manager of InterSport, noting that in 2017, the market recorded a 10 percent growth.

“Running is the most popular sports. We did a research last year and found out that over 90 percent of those who exercise two or three times per week are runners,” he added.

Brands and events targeting female runners reported female runners are being especially targeted by sports brands, with the country’s running market gaining exponential growth.

Male runners undoubtedly constitute the main force of marathon races. Based on official data, 80 percent of Full Marathon and 75 percent of Half Marathon participants are male.

Despite that, many industry insiders believe it is female runners who will decide how big the market in China will eventually become. Based on data from the several domestic online shopping websites, the number of male consumers for running gear is merely 14 percent more than their female counterparts.

“Women, compared with men, ask for higher level of market segmentation, and this would bring growth for the market,” Yan Zhigang, the China CEO of Danskin, a US-based sports brand for women said.

Now, Li-Ning owns the China market franchise of the sports brand boasting a history of 120 years. Danskin has done research on the exercise and consumption habits of female athletes.

“For most female consumers, if they run, they wear running suit and if they do yoga, they wear yoga clothes. They have fine-sorted requirements and therefore have a stronger urge to shop.”

Besides, women tend to share their good experiences and this helps with promotion of brand names.

“Females love to exercise in groups. For example, they would be on diet, go to gyms, do  yoga or run in semi-marathon along with their good friends,” Yan said.

“On average, a woman shares her exercise experience with six of her close friends, while for male athletes, the number is much smaller,” cited a report based on market data analysis by a domestic sports platform as saying.

China’s long-distance running market is doubling efforts to tap into the market of female runners.

Besides more fine-sorted gear and equipment, there is also a surging number of women’s road running races in China.

Bubbles in marathon boom

The boom in marathon events in China also created bubbles, Wang Nan, the deputy chairman of CAA, told, pointing out that the events lack diversity, are of uneven quality, and may pose safety problems.

Some industry insiders believe that with the problem of homogenization, the key is to develop a running event franchise.

“There are not many original sports events in China. In most times, organizers would merely purchase or copy foreign IPs,” Wang Sichen, founder of ‘mud run’ told the ISPO forum.

When there are too many similar activities, content matters the most. Runners participate in an event in order to have different experience and socialize with their peers. If contents remain the same, it’ll be difficult for some events to attract as many participants, Wang said.

Original event franchises combining new concepts from foreign countries like the 10-kilometer mud run, cross-country challenge or other thematic road running events are all sprouting in China.

“You can use the word ‘crazy’ to describe the growth over the past several years,” said Lu Hejie, the CFO of ISPO China, who predicted road running will remain popular in the country and even gain momentum to surpass that in the United States in the near future.

The article is translated and edited from a report. 


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