Fifa World Cup 2018 works wonders for Wanda with hundreds of millions watching Russia v Saudi Arabia

Chinese companies have helped Fifa steady the financial ship after corruption scandal scared off some Western backers

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 June, 2018, 2:03pm
UPDATED : Friday, 15 June, 2018, 2:57pm

China’s players won’t be kicking a ball in Russia over the next four weeks, but there will still a huge mainland presence in the World Cup stadiums – on the advertising hoardings surrounding the pitch.

If you were able to divert your eyes away from hosts Russia putting five goals past Saudi Arabia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow during Thursday’s opening game, you may have noticed the Wanda branding plastered all over the place.

As one of Fifa’s seven official partners, China’s biggest commercial property company was advertised to a global audience of several hundred million along with Adidas, Gazprom, Qatar Airways, Visa, Coca Cola and Hyundai/Kia.

The World Cup offers incredible exposure, with the 2014 tournament reaching 3.2 billion viewers, including the 1 billion who tuned in for the final between Germany and Argentina.

Chinese companies dominate the official sponsorship for the 2018 World Cup, too – smartphone developer Vivo, dairy giants Mengniu and fridge maker Hisense make up three of the tournament’s five sponsors.

Mengniu has exclusive rights to sell yogurt drinks and ice cream inside the stadiums, and has hired Lionel Messi to front its World Cup advertising campaign.

“China is the second largest economy in the world and is likely to be No 1 in our lifetime, but 20 years ago it was nowhere near that level where Chinese companies are showcasing themselves on the global stage,” said Paul Fox, chief executive of Asian gaming company LeTou.

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It marks a significant change from the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Key long-term partners Johnson & Johnson, Castrol and Continental walked away from Fifa following the corruption scandal that engulfed world football’s governing body in May 2015.

According to the Nielsen Sports World Football Report 2018, the value of World Cup sponsorship has dropped compared to the 2014 tournament in Brazil, with Fifa sponsor revenue tumbling from US$1.629 billion to US$1.45 billion.

Nielsen said the sponsorship cycle had been a “tougher sell” than for Brazil 2014 and the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

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But Fifa’s bottom line has been kept steady with the influx of Chinese sponsors – and Asian sponsors overall account for 39 per cent of sponsorship deals at Russia 2018.

“It’s the advent of Chinese money infiltrating the rest of the world via buying businesses, teams, advertising products domestically or internationally,” said Fox, who brokered a deal between LeTou and Welsh football club Swansea to become its main sponsor for the 2017-18 Premier League season.

“As is the case with a lot of things, the Chinese are prepared to spend more money and Fifa sell to the highest bidder. If Chinese companies pay premium then that’s where Fifa will go.

“Western companies have been backing down, but one of the main things to focus on here is the bigger picture of football in China.”

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Historically, the game has never really been that popular in the mainland. China qualified for the 2002 World Cup but only because the host nations Japan and South Korea – Asia’s strongest two teams – were removed from qualifying.

But China’s corporations are getting behind the government effort to develop football in China so that President Xi Jinping can achieve his dream of bringing the World Cup to the mainland.

“Football was in its infancy in China in 2002. Looking back, we can draw the line there for the very start of the growth,” Fox said.

“President Xi is himself a very big football fan and he wants China to compete at the highest level.

“When Beijing hosted the Olympics they did a very good job, and China did a very good job competing for as many medals as possible. They want to apply that same philosophy to football moving forward.”

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Xi’s plan seems to be working – the Nielsen report added that interest in football has increased in China from 27 per cent in 2013 to 32 per cent in 2017.

“Fifa is desperate to host a World Cup in China, so they want a good relationship with these Chinese companies,” Fox said.

“The government wants it too. Put those forces together and it’s inevitable that China will host a World Cup.”