SHANGHAI, China (CNN) – A Swiss superman, a Celtic warrior, a man who defies gravity, and for the first time… a homegrown hero.
It’s Saturday night in Shanghai and World Wrestling Entertainment, WWE, has come to China.
Larger-than-life characters with over the top personalities battling it out in the ring, entertaining thousands of fans. The pro-wrestling company has stepped up its efforts to expand in the middle kingdom this year.
A big part of that strategy, 23-year-old Wang Bin. 6-foot 2 and 220 pounds, WWE wants to make him its first Chinese superstar.
“I’ll be having my debut WWE match in my motherland. I’m so excited and very happy,” said Wang Bin.
In addition to Wang, WWE announced last week it signed seven more Chinese performers to developmental contracts. With backgrounds ranging from boxing to dance, they’ll join Wang at the WWE’s training facility in Florida next year. But developing them into full-fledged “superstars” is a process that could take years.
WWE needs to make its existing product appeal to Chinese fans now. In June, the company struck a deal with a Chinese streaming service to carry its signature programs live each week with mandarin commentary. There’s also an aggressive social media strategy
“We have to use WeChat, Weibo and Youku-Tudou to deliver a lot of our short form content and engage fans. Ever since we started putting together our social media team, we saw a significant increase in our fan base. Right now we’re over half a million fans across three platforms,” said Jay Li, Vice President, WWE China.
Half a million in a country of 1.3 billion means there’s lots of room to grow. But Li knows just how to pitch WWE to the Chinese audience.
“Kungfu novel” – and that would be the word that I give to friends who ask this question and they get it immediately. They say, “oh yeah, we get it. It’s scripted entertainment that’s full of action,” said Li.
One of the WWE’s biggest superstars told us he saw so much potential in China, he learned some Chinese.
“I know that in Mandarin, “you can’t see me” is “Ni kan bu dao wo” – danshi di yi ci wo shuo, wo shuo “Ni bu kan jian wo,” (subtitle: But the first time I said it, I said “Ni bu kan jian wo”) So I say “Ni bu kan jian wo” and use our social media and web platforms and I came back to China in June, talked to our digital people and said ‘Ah, I’m so sorry for saying it wrong.’ They said ‘No, no, no. Chinese fans love you for it. So you now have to say it wrong every time,” sid John Cena.
Wang bin’s match in Shanghai on Saturday wasn’t televised. There’s much more training he needs to go through before being ready to perform on WWE TV.
The company also needs to decide whether to make him a hero or villain.
“I don’t really have a preference. I think that will slowly come. Right now I have to have more matches and show off myself, then figure out which character suits me the best,” said Wang Bin.
WWE hopes to replicate the success they had in India where they expanded 16 years ago, and today is their 3rd largest market. Having homegrown superstars will definitely give these loud and loyal fans even more reason to cheer, a potentially a billion more a reason to start watching.