Mustering around 850 million monthly active users on the local social media, China is gradually becoming a preponderant economic market for worldwide clubs. First and foremorst, european clubs have grasped both the complexity and wonders of the emerging football market in China. Recent trends have hogged the spotlight on the investment policy in the chessboard. The middle kingdom has implemented a radically efficient strategy in attracting foreign players: targeting European Leagues, like Italian and Spanish ones, in which clubs are facing huge amounts of debts, structures renewal and turnover. Following up the previous World Cup where Chinese fans surprised by their presence and involvement, the current one holds no exception. In fact, football is the most-watched sport in China. Wechat and Weibo, the must-have social media platform, not only generate countless foreign clubs’ daily activities and forecasts but also instigate (new) celebrities’ endorsement.
OVERALL INVESTMENT FROM CHINESE FOOTBALL ACTORS
Ever-growing foreign investment from Chinese individuals and corporates in football has become conspicuous since 2016. However, the football market in China is not a fad and doesn’t only revolve around mere mass investment. Having hosted the Beijing summer Olympic Games in 2008, it was already considered as a breakthrough momentum in how the world views in China’s sport ecosphere.
Same goes for the international sporting stage, awakening developed countries and project owners. China’s influence is assessed by its acquisitions: agencies, teams, events in football. For instance, the acquisition of Infront Sports & Media by Dalian Wanda Group for $1.2 billion or Atlético Madrid (even renaming the stadium ‘The Wanda Metropolitano’) are a genuine striking force. Investing on top players and clubs probably generate the most headlines and prime topics, other secondary strategies are credible alternatives, such as sponsorships based on branding and a club or agency’s background.
Other Actors are present and active : Chinese fans. They are making some echos in Russia and conveying their admiration of teamplays and players roundabout skills. Among the 100,000 Chinese fans visiting this country, they come from top-tiers cities, known as : Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and so on. More than 50% of the these travelling fans are female. When expenses are generally high, new services and opportunities arise for the tourism ecosystem.
TARGETED SPONSORSHIPS AND PARTNERSHIPS ARE RISING
Apart from pure acquisitions of global profiles and assets, Chinese firms are gradually seeking football as a whole sponsorship platform : the portofolio of Sponsorships made by Huawei with football clubs or MengNiu Group (蒙牛) cooperating with both FIFA for the 2018 world Cup in Russia as a sponsor line-up and Lionel Messi as celebrity endorsement testify the emerging role China plays these past months.
Meanwhile, an another turning point is emphasised by co-ownerships and partnerships. Chinese financial services company, Everbright, and internet entertainment company Baofeng made a partnership with MP & Silva, an international sports agency. Currently, most of the mergers or partnerships are carried through an investment, implemented in that case by Shanghai Jin Xin.
In the same lenght, Gestifute, a Portuguese football agency, endorsed by Jorge Mendes, the famed player agent, and Cristiano Ronaldo made a strategic collaboration with Foyo Entertainment. The Chinese company main role is to give a prompt support to investment in clubs while the portuguese agency probably is more well-versed in scouting and prospecting unique opportunities (players’ profiles, new strategic locations for academies, advertisement approach..)
AGENCIES AND SOCIAL MEDIA
Moreover, agencies use the explosive outreach yielded by their social media. As a figurehead, Shankai Sports, a Chinese sports agency has reached a great audience both locally and globally. As a matter of fact, the agency has secured the new media right for the upcoming Euro 2020, multiple years ahead of a breathless competition. For the first time, there was a Chinese exclusive version of the Euro 2016 in France.
An official Sina Weibo account and Wechat’s pipeline served as the medium for an event of such magnitude. Similarly, in an international scale, Shankai sports was granted sales rights both for digital media and sponsorship from 2015 to 2022. Thus, great opportunities come from the new regulations : multiple cities will host the tournament’s matches. It implies more european countries, companies, individuals will be connected with the Chinese sport industry, healthcare and growing talents.
ACADEMIC AND FOOTBALL EDUCATION : THE NEXT ALCHEMY ?
It goes without saying that behind these investments’ eagerness hold political interests and stakes. Xi JinPing, the president of the Republic of China, has been a football fan since his childhood. Apart from a tremendous feat with the World Cup qualification in 2002, China football performance remain stammering.
To prevent this negative spirale, football will become a mandatory « course » in the national curriculum at schools and an option in national entrance exam. Indeed, enhancing the standard of football must start with children and grassroots in order to sensitize a majority of people. The middle kingdom don’t lack in funds and means : facilities, brand-new pitches, recruiting ambassadors and middlemen.
In parallel, Chinese people have displayed a more positive attitude towards practicing sport. Thus, it would turn into an intergenerational trend in the upcoming years. Soccer academies founded by domestic or/and overseas professional clubs or foreign clubs associated with overseas companies intensify their activities, training and prospecting to find the next rare gem.