China's outdoor sports boom driving business growth
Updated: January 5, 2024 14:34 Xinhua

BEIJING, Jan. 5 -- The 2024 Chongqing Marathon, which is scheduled for March 24, saw 100,000 applications in a single day. Only a fraction will be selected through a lucky draw to run the 42-kilometer distance.

It's the same case with many marathon events held in China nowadays. According to the Chinese Athletics Association, over 300 road running races were held nationwide in the first half of last year, with a total of 2.24 million participants.

However, road running may not be the most popular outdoor sport in China today. A report by the State General Administration of Sports indicated that cycling, camping and skateboarding have been gaining greater popularity among the younger generation, with ultimate frisbee also becoming all the rage.

In southwest China's Yunnan Province alone, more than 22 million people engage in outdoor-related sports once a week. "In recent years, a variety of outdoor sports-related clubs have sprung up, such as hiking, mountaineering and cycling clubs, and these keep expanding rapidly," said Yang Zhonghua, head of the Yunnan Provincial Sports Bureau.

In Beijing, along the famous Chang'an Avenue, the sight of swarms of cyclists in helmets pedaling premium bikes has become the new normal. On the lifestyle-sharing platform Xiaohongshu, content with the hashtag "cycling" has gained 1.3 billion views.

Insiders say the underlying factors in the outdoor sports boom are Chinese people's increased awareness of keeping a healthy body and a desire to get back to nature.

The rise in outdoor activities is predominantly fueled by younger demographics. According to data from Chinese travel website Mafengwo, millennials and Gen Z are leading the outdoor sports trend, comprising 85.6 percent of outdoor sports enthusiasts in 2022.

Different age groups have specific preferences for outdoor sports. For example, the post-1980 and post-1985 generation are more inclined towards fishing and frisbee sports, while surfing and snorkeling are the favorites of post-90s. Post-95s are drawn to wild camping, and post-00s favor skateboarding.

This lifestyle trend has contributed to the growth of the outdoor sector.

He Xin, co-founder of Frienday Bike Store in Beijing, opened three new stores last year. "The sales of our store rose roughly 50 percent from the previous year. As far as I know, many of our counterparts saw considerable growth as well in 2023," said He, who himself has cycled regularly for over 20 years.

Sales data of leading e-commerce platform's 2023 "Double 11" shopping festival revealed robust growth in outdoor sports gear, with sales of venture jackets and bicycle accessories increasing by over 100 percent.

The expanding outdoor sports sector also presents a promising opportunity for international brands.

For the three months ending on September 30, 2023, The North Face posted revenues of 1.12 billion U.S. dollars, up 17 percent in constant currency compared to the same quarter in 2022. This American outdoor brand was up nearly 50 percent in China.

"We're pleased that The North Face has enjoyed significant growth on the Chinese mainland," said Dong Li, vice president of VF Asia and managing director of The North Face Asia Pacific.

In the wake of the rising popularity of outdoor sports, the government has pledged to improve infrastructure and provide more resources for outdoor activities. China's outdoor sports product market is projected to reach 240 billion yuan (33.8 billion dollars) by 2025.

"That forecast is a bit conservative," said a bullish Dong. "The outdoor sports sector in China has tremendous potential."

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