It was incredible to initiate the partnership between Ronaldo Academy (RA)and Alibaba’s (the largest internet company in China) Sports Group (Alisports) through strategic public relations and business development efforts - Built trust with China’s sports industry leaders, created $10+ million revenue business opportunity.
Dreams have no limits & Thoughts are things
One day in September, 2015, through wechat, Mr Carlos Wizard Martins told me that one of his dreams would be to meet Jack Ma—Founder of Alibaba group with Ronaldo in China. Though he sounded like telling a joke, it was like planting a seed in my heart, challenging and exciting.
As the popular Chinese saying goes: Dreams are necessary, what if you accidently realize them?
Leaders don’t wait, they act on:
Doing research about Jack Ma—Background, hobbies & passion, recent activities, investment records, speeches on China’s economic trends, Merge & Acquisitions…Reading news about entrepreneurial & investing environment in China, especially Sports Industry in 2015, keeping the general background info in mind and seeking opportunities for Ronaldo Academy.
I noticed a friend on wechat who posted sports industry business related news/pics every day, curious and interested, I took the initiative to contact him, learned that he is a partner and chief editor of the first sports & business media start up in China. Approached him many times for getting suggestions about who to contact and how to set up meetings for RA with China’s leaders etc. At first he was not really willing to help since it was “big request” any way. Then, I changed my strategy from direct asking to relationship building—Guan xi, a special networking culture in China (as you may know, sometimes to deal with media person, you have to use it). Upon Chinese Mid-autumn day, I sent him a hongbao (red envelope) as greeting & best wishes through Wechat (a popular function on wechat, allowing people to send rewards, bonus money to friends or family). After 3 days he replied me on wechat: I will introduce our chief reporter, Miss Fu, she writes a lot about soccer industry and interviews many executives from sports companies…
I added Miss Fu on wechat immediately, after a brief introduction, I started to ask about soccer & business news (just like a student who is hunger for knowledge). Also I read all her recent articles on who she interviewed and found one about her exclusive interview with Alisports CEO Zhang Dazhong, a day or two right after Alibaba announced its establishment of Alibaba sports group (on the 9th of September, 2015).
Excited for this BIG news (cause immediately I had the thought in mind that if I could get in touch with people from Alisports---a very important step that Alibaba took in planning its big “Happy and Healthy” investment which showed Alibaba’s great ambition in China’s sports indurstry, I will have the chance to eventually reach Jack Ma), I requested the contact info of Alisports new CEO from Miss Fu, and of course, no doubt, she said: “Sorry we cannot disclose our clients’ info, no matter what”. Not getting frustrated, I persisted in asking for more possibilities to contact him, finally she sent me a SinaWeibo (like twitter in China) name card of Zhang Dazhong. She said: “ you can try to follow him on Weibo.”
The stage turned from Wechat to Weibo (the largest Chinese MircoBlog SNS), I firstly read every piece of weibo status that Zhang Dazhong posted, especially about the news of establishing Alisports, and I learned that Alisports was just like a baby start up with only less than 10 personnel by then, but their goal was a clear message to me---To become the major contributor in boosting China’s sports economy with a powerful support of Alibaba platform/ Jack Ma.
I carefully crafted a long letter with the objective of reaching Alisports’ personnel, building the relationship and asking about the possibility of setting up meetings with Jack Ma when Ronaldo and Carlos visit China in the middle of Nov.2015. After leaving this message with all my contact information (including my wechat account) in his Weibo private inbox, I checked my weibo inbox every day but only to find there was no reply. When I was just about to give up hope 10 days later, I received their reply: We will contact you, thanks!”
Both Alisports’ PR manager Wang and vice president & Marketing director Rocky added me on wechat and we started to communicate and exchange ideas, including several formal business emails about explaining both goals and needs. I sent them news and pics about Ronaldo Academy’s plan & performance in Brazil and China from time to time, making them increasingly interested. I was also really cautious in writing each message/ email with an emphasis on creating a win-win situation for both sides. At that moment, My No.1 goal still was setting up meeting for Ronaldo & Carlos with Jack Ma, and during our conversation, I found out that Alisports will hold its official opening ceremony in Shanghai next month (November) and Jack Ma would be invited.
So I carefully requested Rocky and Wang again and again in order to make them commit on realizing the meeting. However, Rocky told me that they would try their best to bring Jack Ma to the event but nothing can be promised, since Jack Ma was probably the busiest man in 2015----While we were talking about him, he was accompanying President Xi Jinping in his national visit to England. Another tricky problem was that when I contacted CEO of Ronaldo Academy in China---Paulo, who was responsible for arranging Ronaldo and his team’s trip and the official opening of RA schools in China, he told me Ronaldo team’s schedule was also very tight, the time they would spend in China was only from 14th—18th Nov, it is super challenging to put those powerful “big heads” together in a real situation like this. But Paulo still asked me to urge Rocky to set the date of meeting Jack Ma during the four days while Ronaldo is in China. He even said that he would give me 24 hours to get the confirmation from Rocky since he may have to re-arrange the flights of all the delegation from Brazil in order to let Ronaldo meet Jack Ma.
Facing the pressure from both sides, I was struggling in meeting both needs though I am 100% committed in this project and had gone so much further. Not being able to eat and sleep well, I told myself I can only focus on finding the solutions. I decided to make a personal call with Rocky from Shanghai.
I still remember that I was quite emotional in expressing my sincere desire of making the meeting happen, without forgetting to mention how much the meeting would contribute to Alisports image (more media attention and opportunities for both sides…etc). This time I not only gained his empathy---he admitted my efforts in working hard on this, also, he shared with me his personal view on this potential partnership by logically presenting his attitude—Alibaba never really focuses on fame and reputation (true, they don’t lack of media attention), but they prefer being down-to-earth and making deals/cooperation happen. So Alisports is willing to cooperate with RA in creating bigger opportunities in China’s booming sports industry, In our talk, we discussed about selling Ronaldo brand accessories on Tmall’s online stores, making use of Alibaba’s big data platform and unique IP advantage, collaborating with RA in providing football training courses for Chinese kids as well as designing family Olympic tour package for 2016 through Alibaba’s Taobao travel services and many other possible plans.
That was a really productive call, which provided me such a big inspiration: Since No. 1 goal—meeting Jack Ma is too hard and not realistic (and it is not wise for me to keep urging Alisports, since they might get annoyed and shut down the communication), I would have to adjust and set goal No. 2 of establishing potential partnership with Alisports (and meet their needs too). After all, I was glad that 1.5 months’ back & forth communication paid off, we had a better understanding of each other and both believed that it would be more meaningful to become business partners in a long run. Besides, I know if the official cooperation is established, sooner or later, Jack Ma would meet Ronaldo and Carlos.
After explaining all this to Mr Carlos, I wrote an email (on a Thursday), introducing him—The partner and president of global Ronaldo Academy, as well as Paulo---The CEO of Ronaldo Academy in China to Mr Rocky, VP of Alisports. And set up a date (the next Monday) for both RA and Alisports to meet officially in Shanghai—headquarter of Alisports.
Rocky replied that he wanted to see me in the meeting, “I know it's quite difficult but we really wish you could come with Mr. Paulo to speed up our potential partnership…”
I was at that time in the US and preparing for my Mid-term exam on next Wednesday. It was already late on Thursday, and the meeting would be on the Monday after. I struggled for a while, then made the decision of saying YES, booked the flight that night, flew back to Shanghai exclusively for this meeting, stayed in China for less than 48 hours and came back to the US, fought greatly with the jet lag and exhaustion, participated the mid-term in the next morning. It was truly a great test for me.
The meeting went very well as desired. Both sides had a great chance in presenting ideas and brainstormed about plans of realizing bigger value of the partnership. We agreed to have follow-up communication and speed up our cooperation. Rocky said, the “marriage” between Ronaldo Academy and Alisports would be a great matching and he thanked me for taking the initiative &efforts to make all these happen.
On 18th, Nov, 2015, Ronaldo and his team paid a visit to Alisports in Shanghai, and it was announced that Alisports and Ronaldo Academy had their partnership officially established.