China did not participate in this year’s World Cup and has actually qualified for the tournament only once, in 2002. Nevertheless, 2010 saw a solar energy company – Yingli Green Energy Holding Company – become the first firm from that country to secure global marketing rights to the sporting event. Viewers and fans would have seen the company’s name and logo displayed on the digital billboards ringing the fields, alongside more familiar consumer brands such as McDonald’s, Budweiser, and BP Castrol. Yingli Solar’s investment also made it the first renewable energy company to ever sponsor the World Cup.
The exact cost of the sponsorship has not been disclosed due to a confidentiality agreement, but the benefits have been extensive, as reported by the New York Times:
The “Leading Off” section of photographs in the July 5 issue of Sports Illustrated had a shot from the England-Germany match on June 27 that showed several Yingli Solar electronic signs interspersed with ads for McDonald’s…Helena Kimball, head of marketing communications at the San Francisco office of Yingli Green Energy Americas [said]: Traffic to the Yingli Web site has increased to the point where “the site did end up crashing a few times.” In addition to the presence on the billboards, the sponsorship entitles Yingli to set up displays of its products at the Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg. Among the ways that Yingli is promoting the sponsorship, Ms. Kimball [said], are ads on the Yingli Web site; television commercials on flights of Chinese airlines like Air China; ads in Chinese and South African airports; and banner ads on Chinese Web sites like sina.com and sohu.com.
The paper previously noted that China recently became the world’s largest manufacturer of solar panels – Yingli Solar, in fact, only became listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 2007. The Breakthrough Institute and Information Technology & Innovation Foundation report, “Rising Tigers, Sleeping Giant,” similarly, closely examined the rapid development of clean energy technology in China, Japan, and South Korea. To be sure, American solar panel companies maintain an edge in their perceived quality, but if Yulin Solar’s bold sponsorship strategy is any indication, you can be sure that company and the rest of China’s indigenous solar innovators are working hard to make up the difference.
The United States must do all that it can to encourage innovation and competition in the domestic solar power industry in particular and clean energy industry in general, lest the jobs and businesses of the future be located elsewhere. Elizabeth Economy of the Council on Foreign relations put it best: “If Yingli wants to eat lunch at McDonald’s, great. I just don’t want them to eat G.E.’s lunch as well.”