Posted on Friday, Oct 14th 2016
According to a report by venture capital firm China eCapital Corp, China’s professional sports industry is estimated to grow to 1.6 trillion yuan (~$242 billion) in annual revenue by 2025, translating to a compounded annual growth rate of 20% from 2016. A major growth factor is expected to be broadcasting rights fees for professional sporting events. LeSports is a leading player and a Billion Dollar Unicorn club member in this industry.
LeSports was founded in 2014 as a wholly owned subsidiary of China’s online focused technology company LeEco, formerly known as Letv. Letv.com was founded in 2004 by serial entrepreneur Jia Yueting. The company was Letv was set up to offer online streaming of TV dramas and movie titles across mobile, computer, and TV screens. Inspired by the success, Letv diversified into multiple service and hardware offerings. It set up subsidiaries like Letv Music in the music industry, Letv Sports in the sports industry and Smart TV and Le Mobiles to provide televisions and mobile devices.
In 2014, LeSports broke out from Letv.com and began distributing its businesses across the entire sports industry. Today LeSports is China’s leading Internet-based sports company that provides services ranging from event operations, content platform, smart devices, and other value-added services. Its operations cover O2O training, gaming, e-commerce, and ticketing for multiple sports events. Besides services, it also provides smart connected products such as the Super Bike launched in August 2015 that provides the rider with access to capabilities such as mobile locking for bikes, location data, security alerts, and providing detailed analytics on the cyclist’s records.
LeSports’s biggest claim to fame is the media rights it holds to over 310 top sporting events worldwide covering 10,000 matches. In fact, it has exclusive access to 72% of the sporting events including the Chinese Super League for the next two years; a three-year strategic partnership with Major League Baseball for broadcasting rights in mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macau and exclusive live broadcasting rights for the English Premier League in Hong Kong from 2016 to 2019.
Last year, LeSports has been in the news for all the right reasons. It announced the acquisition of sports video streaming site Zhangyu.tv for an estimated 300 million yuan (~$46 million). Zhangyu.tv is among the largest live sports platforms in China. At the time of the acquisition, Zhangyu had a following of more than 5 million active daily users. Additionally, LeSports also acquired rights to air games in the country’s top soccer league and bought a large package of soccer and other rights in a deal with Singapore-based sports marketing firm MP & Silva.
LeSports’s detailed financials are not known. According to market reports, it had recorded un-audited revenues of 417 million yuan (~$64.3 million) in 2015. LeSports earns revenues through subscription access to its steaming service. It leverages LeEco’s online broadcasting copyrights and sells an all-in-one membership subscription package at 590 yuan (~$91) per year. It claims to have a user base of over 10 million sports viewers on its platform daily. Besides viewing rights, a VIP membership to LeSports also comes with additional features such as privileges when purchasing tickets to sporting events, members-only discounts on Le Sports Mall, and membership points redemption.
The company has raised $1.36 billion in venture funding so far. Its last funding round was held in March this year when it raised 8 billion yuan (~$1.2 billion) at a valuation of $3.3 billion. Analysts estimate that the valuation has grown more than 6 times since an earlier round held in May last year.
More investigation and analysis of Unicorn companies can be found in my latest Entrepreneur Journeys book, Billion Dollar Unicorns. The term Unicorn was coined in a TechCrunch article by Aileen Lee of Cowboy Ventures.
Photo Credit: Matt Hecht/Flickr.com
This segment is a part in the series : Billion Dollar Unicorns
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