Fifa World Cup: fans confused over Chinese companies despite huge presence in Russia
Fans queue to enter booths but still have no idea what conglomerates such as Wanda do while Mengniu’s customer service leaves a bad taste for some
If this World Cup was being seen as Russia’s opportunity to open up to the international community, Chinese businesses have been quick to hijack the global platform to sell their wares to the world.
No World Cup past or present has had a Chinese presence as strong as Russia 2018, with the nation’s companies at the forefront of a very public push for prominence.
On perimeter signage and video screens, at promotional booths in the forecourt of the main venues as well as on television and around Moscow, the sight of Chinese characters and the sound of Mandarin voice-overs is inescapable.
Corporate China has come out to play like never before.
But in many instances mystery remains.
“So what is Wanda? What do they do?” asks Jim, resplendent in his green Northern Ireland shirt outside the Luzhniki Stadium.
“We see them all over the World Cup, but we’ve no idea what they are.”
It is not a question that is being readily answered at the booth of the Chinese conglomerate as thousands of fans stream past, on their way to watch Mexico score a surprise win over reigning world champions Germany.
Entertainment is offered for the fans who choose to stop and seek some respite from the toasty temperatures, but there’s little suggest fans are engaging with one of the China’s biggest conglomerates.
With interests as diverse as property development and cinemas, Wanda may be making their presence felt both outside the grounds and on the signage around the pitch, but they seem to be making little effort to educate anyone on what they do.
All it does is add to the sense the company – which also owns Infront, who sell Fifa’s broadcast rights globally – is involved for political rather than commercial reasons.
Hisense and Vivo at least have no such issues. As consumer facing brands with products to sell, the television screens and mobile phones the respective companies manufacture are on display for anyone wanting to touch and feel the products.
Precious few, though, seem bothered. An interactive robotic football game at the Vivo booth sits unused and the phones seem to be attracting little interest.
When there is a desire from fans to engage – and let’s face it, supporters attend World Cup games to watch football rather than to browse for a new electronic device – the companies appear unprepared to take advantage of the opportunities.
China’s second biggest dairy producer Mengniu has its products lined up at a sprawling booth featuring painted plastic cattle, interactive games and cut-outs of Lionel Messi for photo opportunities.
But anyone visiting the stand is giving limited opportunity to sample the company’s wares.
“Nyet, nyet, no,” says Alexandra as she guards the concession stand. “Not for sale,” she stresses as she waves her hand towards the open-faced refrigerator full of neatly arranged bottles and cartons on display behind her.
“Only this,” she says, pointing at a waist-high freezer containing a sparse collection of chocolate-coated ice creams that a handful of fans are sampling a few feet away.
“It’s not bad,” says John, originally from South Africa but now living in Connecticut in the United States. “Yeah, but it’s not as good as a Magnum,” chips in his friend. “Or Haagen-Dasz.”
While the wider fan base seems to have limited interest, the significant number of Chinese fans present at Luzhniki Stadium are willing to engage. Some mill around the booths, others soak up the scene.
“I’m proud these companies are here,” says Chinese fan Zheng Yi, from Shanghai, as he gazes up at the Vivo stand. “But I wish my team was here.”
Would he trade China’s commercial presence for Marcello Lippi and his team to be taking on the best at the World Cup?
“No,” he says. “I want both.”