Zhang Jiaying began practicing rowing seriously two weeks ago. Driven by her passion for sports, she is determined to take part in the 2023 Head of Shanghai River Regatta, which is scheduled for next month.
"Lately, my life has been incredibly busy, as I'm constantly juggling work commitments and training sessions," said Zhang, who has an alternating-day training routine.
The days spent training under the sun has left tanlines on her body, and they reflect Zhang's enthusiasm for her newfound passion.
"Rowing is truly captivating. Being out on the water opens up a whole new world compared to being on land," she said.
While Zhang focuses on her professional rowing training for the upcoming competition, 30-year-old Wang Fu has developed a more casual interest in a different sport this year.
Living in Beijing, she enjoys traversing the city on her bicycle. Her typical routine involves commencing her rides after 9 p.m. and concluding around midnight, covering a total distance of approximately 35 kilometers.
Cycling at night has gained popularity among young people this summer. On the lifestyle-sharing platform Xiaohongshu, the hashtag "nighttime cycling" has amassed more than 92 million views, while the hashtag "urban cycling plan" gained 670 million views.
Apart from the growing popularity of cycling this year, other activities like rock climbing, skateboarding and city walks have also emerged as popular leisure activities.
A booming market
China is now one of the world's largest sports consumption markets. In the first half of 2023, China's total number of sports venues reached more than 4.5 million, an increase of 6.7 percent year on year.
During the same period, retail sales of sports and entertainment products increased by 10.5 percent compared to that of last year, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).
As present, China has over 11 million sports-related companies. More than 2.1 million of these were registered within the first half of this year, an 81 percent increase compared to the same period in 2022, according to Tianyancha, an online query platform for company information.
In the first half of 2023, China's leading sportswear company Anta Sports reported double-digit growth in both revenue and profit. Similarly, other Chinese sports enterprises like Xtep and Li-Ning also witnessed considerable growth.
Since July this year, there has been a 120 percent year-on-year surge in online orders for sports and fitness products of domestic brands, data from the NBS shows.
The current trend is expected to persist, with China's sports consumption scale anticipated to reach 2.8 trillion yuan ($420 billion) by 2025, more than doubling the current figure of 1.5 trillion yuan, according to a 2022 report by the Research Center for Sports Finance at Tsinghua University.
Over the past few years, there has been a steady increase in per capita sports consumption among residents. The per capita spending on sports by Sichuan residents accounted for nearly 9 percent of the province's average individual consumption expenditure in 2022. Since 2017, the province has seen a consistent average annual growth rate of 6.5 percent in per capita sports expenditure.
In other provinces, such as Liaoning, Zhejiang, and Shandong, thelevel of sports consumption among residents is also steadily increasing. In Shandong, for instance, residents' sports spending encompasses a diverse range of activities, including fitness training, spectating competitions and sports tourism.
China's sports consumer market is characterized by consistent expansion in scale, ongoing improvements in structure and continuous innovation in business models, said Zou Yunhan, deputy researcher at the State Information Center.
Behind fast-developing sports industry
Unlike Zhang Jiaying and Wang Fu, Xiao Wei does not categorize herself as a sport enthusiast. Usually, she engages in a weekly badminton session with her friends. Throughout the rest of the week, she practices yoga at home or occasionally takes a leisurely stroll outdoors.
"I just find joy in dedicating just half an hour each day to exercise," says the 29-year-old, "For me, sports fulfill the dual purpose of staying active and keeping social interacdtion."
For more people living in China like Xiao Wei, sports have evolved beyond mere physical fitness. They're now a way to socialize.
Currently, the number of individuals participating in regular physical exercise in China has exceeded 500 million, and major sports events such as the recently concluded World University Games in Chengdu are contributing to the promotion of fitness and the dissemination of sports culture.
The ongoing popularity of sports reflects people's aspirations for an improved quality of life and a growing emphasis on health and well-being, said Zhou Mi, a professor at the College of Economic and Social Development, Nankai University.
"The involvement in sports is poised for a continuous upswing, signifying an elevation in consumer behavior standards," he said.
China's growing sports industry is largely driven by government support. Between 2016-2020, the National Development and Reform Commission invested almost 94 million yuan in the sports industry.
China also has issued several key initiatives to boost the sports industry. The most recent are plans issued in June 2023 to encourage localities across the country to organize sports consumption seasons and online sports consumption festivals. Other measures include supporting the development of sports venues and infrastructure.