Huawei, Redskins cooperate to form unlikely partnership

By Mark Dreyer Source:Global Times Published: 2014-10-26 23:33:01

When two controversial partners pair up, is it a match made in heaven, or one made in hell? That's the question that springs to mind with ­regards to Chinese telecoms giant Huawei's new sponsorship of the Washington Redskins.

The Redskins are unquestionably one of the most famous professional sports franchises in the world, with their name and logo recognized far outside the US-centric world of the NFL, but in recent years the team has become known ­almost as much for its controversial name - which many argue is offensive to Native Americans - as for its storied playing history.

The US Patent and Trademark Office voided the team's trademark earlier this year, publications including The Washington Post, The New York Times and Sports Illustrated ban the use of the team name either in whole or in part, and members of Congress have even got in on the act to pressure team owner Dan Sydner to see sense.

In short, the team is a political hot potato and not one that brands would ordinarily be signing up to support, given the current furore.

But on the other side of the fence sits Huawei, all but blacklisted in the US (and elsewhere) due to its presumed links with the Chinese government, since founder Ren Zhengfei was formerly an officer in the People's Liberation Army. That association might be acceptable in the fields of agriculture, or even natural resources, but not in the sensitive area of telecommunications and IT infrastructure.

In a deal announced last week, Huawei has become an "Official Technology Partner" for the Redskins, and will provide a WiFi network for the executive suites inside the 85,000-seater FedExField. It's a tried and tested model for the Chinese company, which has similar partnerships throughout the European sports world, but this deal represents Huawei's first major sports sponsorship in the US.

Huawei has previously signed deals with sports teams based in capital cities around the world, thanks to expensive lobbying campaigns aimed at those in power, so it is perhaps no surprise that Washington DC is where the company has made its first American inroads. But it is also something of a U-turn for a firm that once publicly turned its back on the US after seeing business deals fail to win regulatory approval.

It's a small start for Huawei in the world's largest market, but having risen to become the third largest smartphone maker in the world behind Apple and Samsung, expect to see more deals there as the firm's global expansion continues.

The author is a Beijing-based freelance writer.

Posted in: Extra Time

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