May 29, 2024

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The Sports Fanatics

The KOLs powering China’s sportswear boom

Jing Daily’s monthly KOL column tracks and analyzes the most influential figures and trends on China’s social media platforms shaping consumer behavior across the luxury, beauty, travel, lifestyle and fashion segments. Data provided by online performance measurement platform Launchmetrics.

China’s sportswear market is booming thanks, in part, to its homegrown influencers. It generated a Media Impact Value (MIV) of $1.2 billion in 2022, up a whopping 52 percent year on year, according to a recent sportswear report by Launchmetrics. Compare that with the APAC’s 27 percent YoY growth rate. (Calculated by an algorithm designed by Launchmetrics, MIV measures and benchmarks the impact of media placements and mentions across various channels in the fashion, lifestyle, and beauty industries.)

KOLs’ contribution to China’s sportswear MIV expanded 27 percent over 2022 to almost $700 million, nearly three times higher than KOLs’ MIV in the EMEA market, Alison Bringé, Chief Marketing Officer at Launchmetrics, tells Jing Daily. “This means KOL voices play a significant role in shaping consumer behavior, brand preferences, and overall engagement with sportswear products,” she says.

activewear sports Gen Z

KOLs’ contribution to China’s sportswear MIV expanded 27 percent over 2022 to almost $700 million, nearly three times higher than KOLs’ MIV in the EMEA market. Photo: Li Ning

Douyin and Xiaohongshu are the go-to platforms for Gen Z consumers, who look for short-video content to get inspired, and learn something new during their free time. 

For fitness-related content, long-form video-sharing platform Bilibili, which allows users to post vlogs lasting up to 10 hours, is a preferred channel among China’s fitness crowd. It hosts follow-along workout sessions led by sports KOLs.

Jing Daily looks at the top sports and fitness KOLs in China. Inclusion is based on follower growth from February 28 to May 29, 2023.

Followers on Bilibili: 1.8 million 

Average MIV: $132,000 (940,000 RMB)

Sporting long hair, a light tan, and a radiant smile, Fan Liyuan is an athlete and ballet dancer and ranks on Bilibili’s 2022 top 100 KOL list. Image: Fan Liyuan

Sporting long hair, a light tan, and a radiant smile, Fan Liyuan is an athlete and ballet dancer and ranks on Bilibili’s 2022 top 100 KOL list. Many followers comment that he resembles the Japanese idol Takuya Kimura. 

Boasting nearly 2 million followers on Bilibili, Fan is renowned for his fat-burning Muay Thai exercises, ballet yoga class, posture correction tips, and 15-minute videos on how to relieve lower back pain. His content is viral among white collar workers who spend long hours sitting in the office in front of their computers.

A popular fitness vlogger, Fan has collaborated with Chinese fitness app Keep and South Korean sportswear brand Kolon Sport, and also developed his own comfortable clothing label Orbitline. 

“In the post-pandemic era, people are trying to balance fashionability with comfort. There is an increase in sportswear consumption as daily outfits,” says Launchmetrics’ Bringé.

By way of comparison, in 2020, German fitness model Pamela Reif launched her official account on Bilibili, where she quickly amassed 5 million followers. Today, she boasts 10.3 million followers on the platform, and her most popular video, ‘10-minute HIIT fat burning,’ has been played over 22 million times. 

Followers on Bilibili: 4.6 million 

Average MIV: $77,000 (548,000 RMB)

An American Council of Exercise-certified fitness trainer, 26-year-old Aurora Ouyang is an influential KOL in China. Image: Aurora 欧阳春晓

An American Council of Exercise-certified fitness trainer, 26-year-old Aurora Ouyang is an influential KOL in China. She has attracted over 4.6 million followers on Bilibili. Her 10 to 15 minute-long exercise videos are beginner-friendly, with step-to-step explanations and easy workout exercises that don’t require much time. People can easily follow her videos during their breaks. For instance, her video entitled ‘Exercise your legs while laying down and spending time on your phone’ is one of the top three performing posts on Bilibili.

Ouyang is renowned among local netizens for her upper-body workouts. Her video ‘10 minutes a day, quickly get thin shoulders and a young back!’ has been played over 58 million times. 

Followers on Bilibili: 1.6 million 

Average MIV: $58,000 (412,800 RMB)

Uncle Zhuo defines himself as ‘the Wikipedia of lean people gaining fat,’ and doesn’t film videos of himself exercising, or ask viewers to follow him. Image: Uncle Zhuo

Uncle Zhuo defines himself as ‘the Wikipedia of lean people gaining fat,’ and doesn’t film videos of himself exercising, or ask viewers to follow him. His approach is theoretical rather than practical. In his videos, he explains the reasons behind a health issue or workout mistakes. 

His followers attend ‘class sessions’ like at school, where they see a human skeleton and muscle schematics and learn about the body’s structure. While the approach is unusual among fitness KOLs, Uncle Zhuo’s videos explain nutrition and workout exercises, the pain points, and the different phases exercisers go through before achieving results. 

Uncle Zhuo’s content mainly targets a male audience. 

Followers on Bilibili: 1.6 million 

Average MIV: $36,000 (256,000 RMB)

Sporting a six-pack, plus-size boy turned muscleman Yan Shuaiqi has become a role model for young people who wish to lose weight, stay healthy, and gain confidence. Image: Yan Shuaiqi

Sporting a six-pack, plus-size boy turned muscleman Yan Shuaiqi has become a role model for young people who wish to lose weight, stay healthy, and gain confidence. Thanks to his personal history and genuine approach to working out, Yan has quickly amassed a staggering following in Bilibili. 

“Body, health, and soul are the three priorities of people today. People are looking for posts on products and regimes that can make them healthy and confident,” says Bringé. 

Yan created a tailored workout exercise program suitable for Asian people who usually don’t practice sports. Twice a month, he shares new video content on his official Bilibili account, where he presents the fat loss and abs exercises he is proudest of. 

Followers on Bilibili: 1.03 million 

Average MIV: $13,000 (92,500 RMB)

Sophie started her fitness influencer career in 2020, quickly attracting a considerable following. Image: 海洋饼干Sophie

Sophie started her fitness influencer career in 2020, quickly attracting a considerable following. Sportswear labels, such as Lululemon, Flipped Lab, and Nvgtn, have sponsored her athleisure collection to gain visibility in her videos. However, she is attracting the attention of not only sports-related names but also luxury brands. In 2020, she promoted YSL’s Libre perfume on Xiaohongshu. 

In March this year, as she celebrated the fourth anniversary of her becoming a sports blogger, Sophie challenged herself to post a daily fitness video for 31 consecutive days. After accomplishing the goal, the KOL paused posting for two months. 

She reappeared last month with a video explaining to her followers how she joyfully spent her time during her two months off. “KOLs opening up the conversation about mental and physical health are greatly appreciated,” Bringé says. 

Followers on Bilibili: 9.8 million 

Average MIV: $33,000 (235,000 RMB)

With nearly 10 million followers on Bilibili, Zoey is one of the most popular fitness KOLs on the platform. Image: Zoey周六野

With nearly 10 million followers on Bilibili, Zoey is one of the most popular fitness KOLs on the platform. Her sunny background setting, pastel-colored furniture, friendly voice, slow-paced rhythm, and light music create a cozy atmosphere for her viewers to follow her workouts. 

In her official account description, Zoey writes: “I also hope to be your bestie, to become prettier, more confident, and healthier together with you!” 

Most of her fans are women, especially younger members of this demographic. Zoey understands the needs of girls, what they look for, and what kind of results they would like to achieve in a certain timeframe. Many of her followers define themselves as ‘Zoey girls’ just like ‘Liu Genghong girls,’ indicating the fitness star’s popularity in China.

Zoey posts fitness content and vlogs covering her lifestyle and product recommendations, and chats with fans online. Her intimate relationship with her followers makes her an ideal partner for brands to collaborate with. Domestic underwear label Neiwai created an exclusive capsule collection with the fitness influencer.

“Nowadays, consumers are super savvy. It is not about sponsored content vs. ‘unsponsored’ content, but how authentic a product seems to an influencer. A sponsored item must align with the KOL’s values and habits, which will make it perform well. On the contrary, followers may react skeptically,” says Bringé.

While micro-influencers garner the most traction globally, the influencer marketing genre is more established and prominent in the mainland, Bringé says. “Consumers look for more developed content,” she adds. “Micro-influencers’ content is too rough.”