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Davos: China’s Alibaba Strikes Strategic Partnership With Olympic Games Organizers

Variety logo Variety 1/19/2017 Patrick Frater
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Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba has struck a landmark partnership with the International Olympic Committee, organizer of the Olympic Games. Jack Ma, Alibaba Group executive chairman, announced the 12-year strategic deal Thursday at a news conference at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

The partnership will see Alibaba use its digital prowess to help the Olympics with cloud computing and analytics, e-commerce, and a year-round Olympic Channel. Daniel Bach, chairman of the IOC, declared that the deal would “transform the global Olympic movement.”

The financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed. Ma said the deal stemmed from Alibaba’s “Happiness and Health Initiative” – the same diversification strategy that pushed Alibaba into cinema. But he ducked questions about acquisition plans for 2017. “I’m not very interested in acquisitions and more interested in finding partners. I’m looking for partners and to empower those partnerships,” Ma said.

According to Bach, Alibaba will provide three packages of digital services to the IOC. It will provide its cloud computing and web analytics services, lifting the digital sophistication of the Olympic organizing committee and to the individual games.

Second, Alibaba is to build a specialized, new e-commerce platform for the Olympics, allowing the IOC and authorized vendors to sell products and services worldwide. Lastly, Alibaba will be a founding partner of the IOC’s year round Olympic Channel, with a mission to provide technical assistance and popularize the channel in China.

“We are founded in China, but built for the world,” said Ma. The agreement took a year to hatch, Bach added.

Under the deal, Alibaba obtains rights including advertising and promotional use of Olympic marks and imagery from the Games, as well as marks from the National Olympic Committees. Alibaba’s global activation rights will include the Winter Games in PyeongChang in 2018, the Summer Games in Tokyo in 2020, the Winter Games in Beijing in 2022, and the games in 2024, 2026 and 2028 in cities yet to be determined.

This year’s forum in Davos boasts a large contingent of top Chinese business leaders, including the heads of entertainment and media firms Wanda, Baidu and China Media Capital.

On Tuesday, Chinese President Xi Jinping addressed the WEF with a clear message that globalization is good for all, and a barely disguised warning to the incoming Trump administration that a trade war would be damaging to the U.S. as well as to China.

Those two messages were echoed by Ma in a set-piece speech at Davos on Wednesday. “A trade war would be a disaster for the world. It would be very easy to slip into a trade war,” he said. “I believe globalization is good, but globalization needs to be improved.”

On Thursday, Ma repeated recent remarks following his meeting with U.S. President-elect Donald Trump. Ma said Trump is “very open-minded.” Ma added that his commitment to create a million jobs in the U.S. was for real. “I wasn’t talking to a normal person, but the president…If I wasn’t serious, it would be a joke,” he said.

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