A wave of new Chinese companies are sponsoring the 2018 World Cup in Russia, hoping to use one of the biggest stages in sport to raise their brands.

But one of those companies is already the third biggest TV maker in the world: Hisense.

Let’s break down an electronics giant you may not have heard of.

Hisense is trying to shake off its “budget brand” reputation. (Picture: SCMP)

More than just consumer electronics

Hisense started life in 1969 as a factory that made radios.

Since then, the company has grown into a behemoth. It makes consumer electronics like TVs, household appliances like fridges, and even dabbled in building a traffic management system for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

But it’s still best known for TVs: It has held the top spot in terms of market share for TVs in China for 13 years, and globally, it only trails Samsung and LG.

So how did Hisense get to sell so many TVs?

In addition to selling its own line of “budget brand” TVs, it’s also pursued partnerships -- or more specifically, white labeling -- where one company makes a product, and others then take it and sell it under their own brands.

It’s also acquired other brands to help to grow its footprint.

In 2015, Hisense did a deal with the famous Japanese brand Sharp and acquired the rights to its brand in the Americas, as well as a production facility in Mexico.

And in November last year, it did a similar deal with Toshiba’s TV business and bought a 95% stake -- a move many said would help boost Hisense thanks to Toshiba’s advanced technology.

But it’s an approach that hasn’t always worked out.

In 2017, Sharp’s new owner -- Foxconn -- sued Hisense to get back US rights to the name, claiming Hisense was ruining the brand with "shoddily manufactured" TVs and misleading advertising. Foxconn even claimed they violated rules on their electromagnetic interference emissions. Hisense denied the allegations and Sharp ultimately dropped the lawsuit.

Next stop...

But now the company is trying to shake its budget reputation thanks to the high-profile World Cup sponsorship deal and range of new products.

At CES this year, the company announced it would be integrating Google Assistant as well as Amazon’s Alexa to some of its newest models -- putting its functionality on par with leading brands like LG.

And at CES Asia in June it showed off a concept TV that uses AI to act as your virtual football commentator -- using facial recognition to identify players and provide player biographies and statistics.