Up to 100,000 football fans from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau are expected to buy about US$25 million worth of hospitality packages to travel to Russia and watch the 2018 Fifa World Cup. Feng Tao, chief executive officer of Beijing-based Shankai Sports, said he expected the number of fans from the region attending next year’s tournament to far exceed the estimated 5,000 who watched the 2014 event in Brazil. Feng was speaking after sports business company Shankai was appointed exclusive sales agent for the four territories to sell official hospitality packages for the 2018 World Cup in Russia and the 2017 Confederations Cup. “This is a great opportunity for Chinese fans to watch live football, the World Cup particularly,” said Feng, whose company also bought the regional rights for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and the 2010 tournament in South Africa. “The Chinese government has put a lot of investment in developing the sports industry, especially football, so it creates a lot of interest in the market in China. “More people in China would like to watch the World Cup and we are now able to create the opportunity for Chinese fans to access the World Cup in Russia.” “If the capacity is available to us, we can bring 100,000 people to the World Cup in Russia.” Shankai’s territories for hospitality packages are expected to generate the biggest returns in Asia and the fourth-largest in the world behind Brazil, Mexico and the United States but excluding the domestic market in Russia. Five-tier packages start from US$850 for individuals rising to thousands of dollars for corporate deals, all of which guarantee tickets to World Cup matches. The deal was brokered through BH Hospitality Ltd, the Hong Kong-based company that is the exclusive regional agent of MATCH Hospitality AG. MATCH is Fifa’s exclusive rights holder for hospitality and sold its rights to Asian Football Confederation (AFC) countries to BH Hospitality. Feng said China’s special relationship with Russia at geographical, political and sporting levels meant it was much easier for Chinese fans to travel to cities such as Moscow and St Petersburg than it was to visit Sao Paulo in Brazil, and even Johannesburg for the 2010 World Cup. “It’s takes 18 hours of flying to Johannesburg and 25 to 30 hours of travelling to get to Sao Paulo,” said Feng. “Russia is totally different. There are direct flights to Moscow and it doesn’t take long to get to St Petersburg either. “Historically, the relationship between the two countries has been good and that is an encouraging aspect for people to travel to Russia.” “It is very convenient for fans to go there.” John Parker, managing director of BH Hospitality, said the China market represents the most important growth territory in terms of the company’s overall strategy for Fifa hospitality programmes. “The size and growth rate of the market in this territory is unique and we are extremely optimistic about the sales potential for our hospitality programme in 2018,” said Parker, who added that Chinese fans are still expected to flock to Russia even if the national team failed to qualify for the finals. “Shankai Sports will no doubt carry on the excellent work which has been done in developing the awareness and appetite for hospitality in this fast-expanding marketplace. We believe that Shankai Sport is ideally positioned to market our exciting range of hospitality packages in this country.” More than 290,000 hospitality packages were sold by MATCH Hospitality across the 2014 Fifa World Cup cycle – including the Fifa Confederations Cup 2013 – generating revenue of US$665 million. Sales from the AFC territories represented seven per cent of the overall 2014 income. Sales in China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan accounted for 15 per cent of the overall Asian revenue from the Brazil tournament.