Chinese billionaire Jack Ma is turning to analytics to get the most out of fans and change the way athletic events are managed and people shop for gear. After getting its start with a service allowing users to track their workouts, a unit of Ma’s Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. is now moving onto organized sports. Using marathons as a guinea pig, it’s scooping up broadcast rights and collecting information on participants and viewers to sell them everything from running shoes to health insurance. Fans watching the event on the company’s Youku streaming service can even send virtual gifts and tips to their favorite runners.
The strategy will then be replicated to other fields, including e-sports, soccer and basketball, as Alisports carves a share of a Chinese sports industry the government estimates could be worth 5 trillion yuan ($728 billion) by 2025.
“We are a platform that records big data on sports,” Zhang Dazhong, chief executive officer of Alisports, said in an interview. “Viewers watching sports on our sites now are directly connected with the e-commerce stores, something that couldn’t happen in the past.”
Zhang’s goal is to expand the three-year-old business to more than 100 million users by November next year, triple the current level. Alisports has brought in cash to help reach that target