Manchester United, English Premier League and Cristiano Ronaldo rule in China

Survey shows that the Red Devils have more mainland followers than rivals such as AC Milan and Bayern Munich

PUBLISHED : Monday, 31 July, 2017, 6:43pm
UPDATED : Monday, 31 July, 2017, 6:53pm

Manchester United are the most popular foreign football team in China, while the English Premier League by far generates more interest among Chinese fans than other competitions, according to a new survey.

Consultancy Brand Finance conducted a study on how football is consumed in China, collecting data from 2,800 respondents in 10 major cities. The survey was based on 16 different leagues and 314 clubs around the world in order to understand Chinese fans’ depth of knowledge, interest and attachment to the major leagues and clubs around the world.

“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,” said Andy Moore, Brand Finance’s insights director.

“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.”

Premier League clubs are the best supported of all foreign leagues, with 56 per cent of all Chinese fans following a Premier League team while 34 per cent follow a Bundesliga club – the next best performing European league.

Manchester United’s viewership of 42 per cent significantly outperforms its European competitors AC Milan and Bayern Munich, which garnered a slightly lower 33 per cent.

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 effect from the club’s remarkable success during Alex Ferguson’s reign. United have also successfully used their strong on-pitch performance to market the club globally in order to maximise financial return, particularly in China.

In 2016, 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 following 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 among the Chinese fan base.