Telum Talks To... Mark Dreyer, Marketing and Communications Director, American Chamber of Commerce in China

Telum Talks To... Mark Dreyer, Marketing and Communications Director, American Chamber of Commerce in China

Telum caught up with Mark Dreyer after the Olympic frenzy to hear about his dual role working at AmCham China and as Founder of sports news blog China Sports Insider. He also shared his take on social media in Mainland China and future challenges in the Chinese sports industry.

What is it about the Chinese sports industry that fascinates you as a media and sports professional based in Beijing?
It’s the interconnected - and virtually inseparable - threads of sports, business and politics. China’s political economy sits at the core of the country and so everywhere you look, sporting decisions are taken based on a combination of those three threads, with sporting factors often a distant third. For example, China’s two Olympic Games have been fantastic multisport extravaganzas, but they are also a show of geopolitical power, while the 2022 Games have been used to drive the development of China’s winter sports economy.

Tell us more about your dual role as AmCham China’s Marketing and Communications Director as well as Founder and Editor at China Sports Insider.
I try to keep my two worlds separate - except where there’s natural crossover and mutual benefit. For example, if AmCham China has sports-related programming, such as around the Olympics, I’ll naturally take the internal lead on that. Additionally, my contacts from my sports media background often come in handy for AmCham China projects, especially given that a shrinking number of foreign journalists in China means fewer people have to cover a wider range of topics - including both sports and commerce. Many comms professionals have outside interests, so I think this is a good way to balance the two sides and align where relevant. I gave more than 100 Olympic-related interviews over the past month, but only our Chair and President can speak on behalf of AmCham China, so I have to make clear in interviews which hat I’m wearing!

What are the key issues that will keep you busy after the Winter Olympics and over the year?
Sports will likely take a back seat for a while now that the Olympics are over and COVID restrictions mean international sporting events will be few and far between - but you can still catch me on my weekly sports podcast here. From the US-China perspective, there’s a whole range of issues keeping us busy - from bilateral trade disputes and US mid-term elections to Xinjiang sensitivities and Ukraine-Russia military conflict, plus everything in between. The last few years have been increasingly challenging and we don’t see things getting easier any time soon - but there’s never a dull day!

What is your view on traditional media, and is it still relevant in the comms industry in social media-focused markets like Mainland China?
Content remains the same, it’s just a question of tailoring it to your audience. Broadsheets are now more active online and on social media, while TV channels are pushing into streaming and short-form video. You also need to decide who your audience is. Douyin, for example, is incredibly popular in China, but it’s not a great fit for AmCham China, because it skews younger than our target audience. Similarly, LinkedIn used to be huge for us, but regulatory changes undermined that almost overnight, so flexibility is key as well as maintaining a multichannel approach.

Do you have a favourite anecdote in your 20-plus-year career in media and comms?
There are so many! But maintaining good relationships is so important. I worked at Sky Sports in the UK around the time that football commentators Andy Gray and Richard Keys were fired for making inappropriate comments while technically off-air, but still mic’ed up in the studio. The steady stream of leaked videos about the pair after the initial incident proved that very few people were sorry to see them go, such had been the toxic atmosphere they had created.

On a lighter note, a story I tell in my book Sporting Superpower: An Insider’s View on China’s Quest to Be the Best is about when the original (Brazilian) Ronaldo was asked to pose for a photo after having a business dinner in China. Just before the frame was snapped, he was given something to hold in his hand. It turned out to be a box of throat lozenges, and that seemingly innocuous photo was used to make a 30-second TV commercial, which ran for years on CCTV, costing him millions in endorsements and running his brand credibility, because fans - who didn’t realize he’d been tricked - thought it was so low budget. It took him a long time before he came back to China…

Finally, what is your take on the future trends or challenges in the sports media industry?
Short term, COVID restrictions here will mean the industry has to focus more on broadcast and video innovation because event attendance will be minimal. Longer-term, the sports industry will face headwinds from the general geopolitical situation. The NBA, the English Premier League and the WTA have all faced issues triggered by events largely outside their control. The question now being asked internationally is whether the Chinese sports market is worth the trouble - despite its size and undoubted potential. I truly hope the market finds a way to stay connected globally because otherwise Chinese sports fans would be the ones to miss out.

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