Chinese football fans – Who are they? They are a truly fascinating species, unique in many ways which set them apart from their counterparts in the West.
The most telling contribution they make to their chosen team is their passionate and vocal support which rivals even European nights on the Kop. Last Saturday I ventured out to watch Shanghai Shenhua under the new leadership of Nicolas Anelka. Due to the atrocious standard of football I would normally have wished for 90 minutes of my life back, however the atmosphere behind the goal was outstanding. Not only did the fans refuse to sit down for the entire match, they stood ON TOP OF their seats. There were flags, drums, battle cries, and chants that would put Old Trafford to shame……until they conceded a goal!
2. GLORY SUPPORTERS
Their support is all well and good; HOWEVER……this is only when they are winning. Their loyalties turn faster than the tide. Players can go from hero to zero in the space of minutes when things do not go their way. This is why they are correctly branded as ‘glory supporters’ as shown by the overwhelming support for top European clubs like Barcelona, Manchester Utd, Chelsea and Liverpool. You would be hard pushed to find a fan walking the streets of Shanghai wearing a Blackburn Rovers shirt. This love of success over loyalty explains their decision to follow multiple European clubs, rather than those from their own domestic league (CSL). This is in fact a fool proof plan, as if one of their teams loses, there’s always a couple to fall back on!
3. POWER OF THE PEOPLE
The idea of ‘Social proof’ applies vehemently to Chinese fans/internet users – when they see others doing something, they follow suit. No matter what the content, they will read/share it, like a large crowd gathering simply because others are doing the same. In the same vein, Chinese fans are also very easily swayed by the media and public opinion, often believing everything they read/hear on the grapevine. This love of gossip mixed with their opinionated nature drives them to comment strongly on everything, always with the belief that they are more qualified even than the coach to pick the starting 11 or team tactics. Due to this superior self-belief, they will always be unsatisfied with the situation of their club, constantly striving for more.
One thing that I have always found fascinating about China is the number of female football fans. For my experience of managing Liverpool’s China fan base, we have found that 30% of our followers are female. Now there are many theories as to why this is, but the fact of the matter is, that if you go to the pub to watch your team, no longer will you find a hundred sweaty men….you may just encounter row upon row of girls all wearing their club’s colours.
5. THE REAL DEAL
China is of course famous for its fake markets and abundance of replica clothing of all top brands. However this does not apply to football. The Chinese fans’ love of authenticity is highly commendable, especially when it comes with astronomical shipping costs. The demand for ‘official’ merchandise is huge and fans are willing to pay extra in order to get their hands on their chosen club’s kit (or in China’s case several different clubs). With ever increasing spending power of your average Chinese consumer, the opportunity for clubs is huge, as the demand is certainly there and especially as the fans are willing to pay the inflated prices that seem to go hand in hand with all football merchandise.
Find a way to connect with the Chinese fans, create a link, however strong, to them and the impact could be huge. Find your own Jeremy Lin. This connection could take the form of a Chinese sponsor, partnership with a Chinese team, establishing a youth training program in China run by the club, annual visits to China, or even something as simple as connecting with them online, in their own language!
Solution: Buy a Chinese player.