In what could be its biggest get yet, China’s leading sportswear brand, Li Ning, signed NBA rookie Evan Turner to an endorsement deal Monday. Turner, the 2010 NCAA National Player of the Year, was selected second overall in the draft by the Philadelphia 76ers. Li Ning already has bigger NBA names in Shaquille O’Neal and Baron Davis, but both were signed when they were well past their prime.
USA Diving has also inked a contract with Li Ning, making it the team’s official apparel sponsor through 2012. The brand’s other non-Chinese national team sponsorships include Spain and Argentina’s basketball teams, and USA Table Tennis.
Although these signings and Li Ning’s opening of an Oregon concept store and R&D center have all lead to speculation that this could be China’s first brand to become an international powerhouse, I’ve always said that these moves are more about creating an appearance for Chinese customers than about seriously competing with Nike and Adidas globally. Quoted in People’s Daily, Ben Cavender of China Market Research Group puts it pretty clearly: “”What they don’t admit to and what they are being slightly cagey about is that their strategy is to firm their position in China as a domestic brand. They can appeal to a certain Chinese nationalism by playing on being able to compete head-to-head with the major international brands because they have these big-time athletes.”
Related: Can China’s hottest sportswear brand go global?
Evan Turner image: Hi.baidu.com
This article also appeared on China Sports Today