5 things that influence Chinese sports loyalty | Edoardo Lipari
In recent years, China’s growing passion for football has drawn the attention of the world’s top football clubs. The incomparable population, alone, make China the ultimate frontier for European clubs to nurture new-era fans and steeply increase revenues. What’s more, the political and economic superpower still owns a potential fan-base of several hundreds of million of people without a defined football team to support. Unlike European fans, who mainly choose their teams either by following their family preference or opting for their home team, the Chinese seem to be influenced by five alternative major points.
The first key point relies on the performance and popularity of a single player. Icons such as David Beckham, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, for instance, represented a fundamental criterion for new player-driven fans. The more successful and gossiped about they are, the more they are held as idols by Chinese fans. Therefore, superstar players fulfil a highly important role for their respective clubs and leagues and can generate huge followings in places like China.
Supporting the winning team is always the safe and easy choice. More specifically, the Chinese middle-class commonly embrace popular brands, successful organisations and trends in order to take part in a thriving circle of followers, which contribute to their personal step-up within society. This explains why clubs such as Manchester United, Bayern Munich and AC Milan have that extra oomph among the Chinese.
A combination of conscious and unconscious effects, led by Chinese social media, influences the Chinese crowd and their willingness to prefer one team over another. As a matter of fact, Sina Weibo and WeChat, the two most popular social platforms in China, can contribute to actively shape fans’ preferences. They can do this in China thanks to a 24/7 online promotion reaching hundreds of million of people. Bundesliga’s social media accounts engage millions of fans by carrying out gripping campaigns. For example, ‘The Voice of Bundesliga’ on Weibo gives fans an opportunity to learn chants and win prizes online. They also optimise focus on all eighteen teams, which provides wider exposure and helps include Chinese fans in the greater league community.
In China, people tend to have a favoured country, generally relating to a specific feature of that country that interests them. For example, Chinese often regard Germany as the land of cars, Italy as the home of top-quality leather etc. Such preference often leads to an instinctive decision to opt for the respective national league and for a popular club competing in it.
Love at first sight
Some Chinese fans claim to have fallen in love with their club because of some kind of wizardry that hit them when they first saw their team playing. This, somehow romantic rationale, explains why a football fanbase in China would develop around teams that do not match any of the above criteria.
It is remarkable how minor football clubs across Europe continue to attract Chinese fans despite mediocre performances on the field, no world-famous players or a particularly active media profile. For example, what would ever bring a Chinese to end up supporting a team like Chievo Verona other than true, blind love?