Germany’s Bundesliga is the leading European football league online in China, according to the latest Red Card study from China-based sports marketing agency Mailman.
The report found that Bundesliga’s embrace of live streaming, the fastest-growing digital trend in China, has seen its in-market content strategy outpace that of the English Premier League (EPL), although the latter remains the most popular league by volume of fans.
Four of the top five most influential clubs online in China are EPL teams. Manchester United is the most popular, followed by Germany’s Bayern Munich, then Liverpool and Arsenal tied, and Manchester City.
However, as a league Bundesliga is more successful with its online fans because of its comprehensive content strategy, said Tom Elsden, senior client manager at Mailman.
“The league launched its ‘Voice of Bundesliga’ annual online China campaign, working with each club to create an exclusive video for their stadium experiences,” he said. “Bundesliga clubs are renowned in China for their fans and stadium experience; it’s their USP.”
The league has also created a microsite with Sina Sports and run a competition to fly Chinese fans to Germany. Bundesliga club Borussia Dortmund last year became the first to sign a live streaming agreement, partnering with Penguin and Tencent Sport.
“The Bundesliga is not more popular than the EPL, but is has been much more successful online with its fans,” Elsden said. While Manchester United is the most followed club on Weibo, Bayern Munich is the most engaged.
“Followers and engagement are both valuable metrics, but a large following could mean a significant number of ‘zombie fans’, who follow a club but do not engage,” Elsden said. “The EPL has missed a trick. The Bundesliga has been pretty relentless with its digital campaigns and offline visits, but the EPL has been complacent, feeling its name and brand would carry it.”
While the study shows the strength of individual EPL clubs, Elsden said this has not been brought into an overall brand strategy for the EPL itself, whereas the Bundesliga is successfully promoting itself and its clubs together.
“Social media usage in China was extremely high during Germany’s success at the last World Cup,” Elsden said. “It inspired a generation of team of Germany fans in China, and there is now a real cult following for German football.”