· Guangzhou Evergrande and Manchester United: the two most popular teams in China
· 56% of all Chinese fans follow a Premier League club, exceeding other major European leagues
· Streaming football games is more popular than TV-viewing for younger, more avid fans
· 85% of all fans actively follow other clubs other than their absolute favourite
Valuation and strategy consultancy Brand Finance has conducted a bespoke market research study of 2,800 respondents in 10 major cities in China in order to understand the country’s rapidly growing football fan-base. A survey was created covering 16 different leagues and 314 individual clubs worldwide to unpick Chinese fans’ depth of knowledge, interest and attachment to the major leagues and clubs around the world. The study uncovers how football is consumed in China, the demographics most interested in football and how consumption differs across the different demographics. This report is the first of its kind to examine what drives loyalty amongst fans, the level of loyalty towards fans’ favourite clubs and the nature of support for both domestic and foreign football clubs.
Premier League clubs are by far the best supported of all foreign leagues. 56% of all Chinese fans follow a Premier League team while 34% follow a Bundesliga club, the next best performing European league. Manchester United’s viewership of 42% significantly outperforms its European competitors AC Milan and FC Bayern, which garnered a slightly lower 33%. Cristiano Ronaldo is China’s most popular player while his club boss, Zinedine Zidane, is the country’s most popular manager.
Manchester United’s popularity in China can be partly attributed to the enduring halo effect from the club’s remarkable success during Alex Ferguson’s reign. It must also be recognized however that United has successfully used its strong on-pitch performance to market the club globally in order to maximise financial return, and this has certainly been the case in China. In 2016 for example, Manchester United signed a ‘multi-year’ deal with Sina Sports to make MUTV, the club’s official TV channel, available to 108 million fans in China. Strong social media campaigns have also seen tangible gains as the Red Devils rank second on all platforms except QQ behind only Guangzhou Evergrade, China’s favourite club.
Online streaming is the most popular method of following football amongst the younger, more avid fan base and clubs must capitalise on the opportunity to increase broadcasting and commercial revenue in China through striking lucrative media deals. In addition, there is growing social media usage and engagement amongst Chinese football fans as 32% of all fans followed a league/club/player on social media in the past month. This number increases to 37% amongst the lowest age category (18-27) which highlights the opportunity for clubs and sponsors to engage with fans and increase their following across arguably the most important growth market.
The nature of Chinese football fan-ship means that fans are far less likely to be absolutely loyal to one club as the culture of supporting a club in China differs from the traditional European approach. Clubs are therefore able to benefit commercially from a wider pool of fans than in their own markets with Chinese fans often follow at least 4 or 5 different teams.
Buying merchandise and products from brands associated with fans’ favourite teams is very popular in China. Indeed, 88% of the most avid fans bought merchandise from a club and 42% bought brands that sponsor their favourite club. Capitalising on this commercial potential, Real Madrid struck a deal with Chinese platform Alibaba to sell club merchandise online, increasing their reach to a potential additional 600 million consumers. In order to best exploit a wide pool of fans with a high propensity to spend, clubs must focus their attention on increasing awareness and familiarity amongst the Chinese fan base.
Andy Moore, Brand Finance’s Insights Director, commented: “The importance of the Chinese market for football is growing and the trend is reflected in the differences in brand value between those clubs that do well in China and those that are only starting to realise the country’s potential. European clubs need to be more aware of the needs of their Chinese fans and make an extra effort to communicate with them in Chinese, as the research shows 88% of respondents would like to see websites and content in their native language.”