China's soccer fans still prefer Manchester United

By WANG MINGJIE | China Daily UK | Updated: 2017-08-08 16:59

China's soccer fans still prefer Manchester United

Paul Pogba fans pose for a photo in Hong Kong. [Photo/Xinhua]

Manchester United is the most popular soccer team in China, ahead of Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, according to a new report.

The Understanding Chinese Football Fans report by Brand Finance, a London-based brand valuation consultancy, found that 42 percent of respondents picked Manchester United as their favorite club, followed by AC Milan and FC Bayern Munich, at 33 percent.

The study said Manchester United's popularity is partly down to the enduring effect of the club's remarkable success during Alex Ferguson's 27-year reign. Using that strong on-pitch performance to market the club was another important factor. In 2016, Manchester United signed a "multi-year" deal with Sina Sports, a leading Chinese digital sports media platform, to make MUTV, the club's official TV channel, available to 108 million fans in China.

The report, covering 16 different leagues and 314 individual clubs worldwide, surveyed 2,800 respondents in 10 major cities in China.

Andy Moore, Brand Finance's insights director, said: "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 realize 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 percent of respondents would like to see websites and content in their native language, he said.

The findings show the culture of supporting a club in China differs from the traditional European approach, with fans far less likely to follow only one club.

Mark Dreyer, a Beijing-based sportswriter who edits the China Sports Insider website, said: "With most Chinese fans following multiple European football clubs, each club has more fans than they might otherwise have."

But he said the Chinese fans are not likely to spend "four or five times the amount of income to follow four or five teams".

Buying merchandise and products from brands associated with fans' favorite teams is very popular in China. The study showed 88 percent of fans bought merchandise from a club, and 42 percent bought from brands that sponsor their favorite club.

Capitalizing on this commercial potential, Real Madrid struck a deal with Chinese platform Alibaba to sell club merchandise online, increasing its reach to 600 million potential consumers.

Online streaming of games has been found to be more popular among young and avid fans than watching TV.

Experts say clubs must capitalize on the opportunity to increase broadcasting and commercial revenue in China through lucrative media deals.

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