In its annual Red Card 2020 report, sports marketing agency Mailman Group has revealed that FC Barcelona is the most popular football club online in China followed by Real Madrid and Chelsea, while the Premier League is the most popular league ahead of La Liga and Bundesliga.
Once again, Cristiano Ronaldo has the biggest online presence in China. He is followed by Neymar Jr and Lionel Messi in second and third places respectively.
RCD Espanyol de Barcelona (aka Espanyol) was the biggest mover in the top 15, climbing 27 places; this is the first major change in the top 15, which usually remains consistent. According to the report, the signing of Chinese athlete Wu Lei to the club was instrumental in their growth.
The impact of China tours was also evident with Tottenham Hotspur, Juventus, Manchester United, Inter Milan, Manchester City, and Paris Saint-Germain having improved their digital presences after summer tours and activations across digital channels. Meanwhile, Arsenal, FC Bayern, and Liverpool dropped down in rankings, and rather uncoincidentally, did not tour China last year.
Meanwhile, Chelsea broke into the top three for the first time as the highest ranked Premier League team, thanks to its highly effective local video strategy, 2 million follower growth on Douyin, and 1.3 million new followers on Weibo, according to the report.
The most noteworthy development this year has been the impact of Douyin as it becomes an increasingly important platform for fans. Due to its algorithm-based model, the app has managed to open up football brands to potential new audiences.
Clubs too realised Douyin’s potential with Paris Saint Germain’s most viewed Douyin video hitting 70 million views, the highest of all European football clubs, and boasting six times more engagement than the club's total engagement on Weibo for the whole year. Content that was seen to work well on Douyin included music and funny edits, plus editorial highlights to accompany sporting content.
Meanwhile, leagues are jumping on the Douyin bandwagon, with the Premier League being the first to reach a million followers. This was attributed to the league’s ability to storytell in local languages, evoke emotions through content, and leverage star power.
While an online presence plays a big role, the report said that the power of offline events and activations musn’t be ignored. FC Bayern Munich won in this department with fan events, and the setting up of a live broadcasting studio. A total of 1,200 fans attended two viewing parties hosted by the club, which saw live commentary, the launch of the Bayern fan zone, the opening of a new office space, and a meet and greet with a club legend.
In terms of influencer marketing, Manchester United came out top for its partnership with Chinese celebrity Lu Han. Han has a passionate fan base among Chinese young people, and is a passionate fan of the club. Activations with him took place on Chinese social media with nine social posts from both the club and the star that resulted in over 4.5 million engagements on Weibo and the initiative reaching 320 million hashtag reads.
Overall, in the last 12 months, an estimated US$67.7 million (based on an average CPM of US$12) has been spent of digital sponsorship revenue in China from football organisations.
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