• Andrew Collins

Aston Villa vs. Real Madrid: The Surprising Winner in China

What do two European football clubs on the opposite end of the spectrum have in common? China.

The end of November was an exciting month for European football in the far East: not only did China’s top sports website ‘Hupu’ announce a partnership with Liverpool FC and Mailman Group, but within four days of each other, both Real Madrid and Aston Villa both launched their official accounts on China’s #1 social network, Sina Weibo.

With an existing presence on Tencent Weibo and an official China website, Real Madrid has already been building a presence in China for the past 2 years. Their launch on Sina Weibo is another indication of the importance the football world is placing on China. With several high profile players already running Chinese social media accounts,  the ‘Galacticos’ have a strong existing fan base of 2.1 million followers, so success on Sina Weibo seems pretty inevitable.

Meanwhile, Aston Villa, the lowest ranked team in Europe to enter the Chinese market, kicked off their China strategy with official accounts on Sina Weibo and Youku (China’s Youtube equivalent). While football giants Real Madrid and Barcelona duke it out at the top of La Liga, Villa find themselves bang in the middle of the Premier League table after a lackluster start to the season. Ambitious, but is it a waste of energy? Can a small club without a recent success or celebrity players attract fans in China?

3 WEEKS LATER: HOW DID THEY DO?

REAL MADRID

91,000 followers

Launched video with top players speaking Chinese

Irregular / infrequent posts

Non-localized content

ASTON VILLA

41,000 followers

Regular behind-the-scenes videos

Reactive content (David Cameron in China / big Villa fan)

The Royal element

Educating the fans (History of success)

CONCLUSION:

Aston Villa are the first team outside the Premier League’s ‘Big 5’ to take on the Chinese market, a brave move, and one that has positioned them ahead of their rivals.  Going purely by numbers, they are short of Real Madrid. However, what they lack in sheer size, they’ve shown that great content, interaction, and localization is just as, if not more of a factor in winning over Chinese sports fans. Whether Villa can continue to deliver and improve on their early success, though, is a different question.

WHAT ARE THEY MISSING?

1) Fan Activities/Contests – Chinese fans love the chance to compete and even better when there’s a prize involved; activities centered on the fans are extremely popular and a great way to increase engagement.

2) WeChat (Weixin) – more personalized approach to interact with their Chinese fans.  Allows content direct from players to Chinese fans mobile phones, including voice messages.

Will we see more mid-table teams take the leap in 2014?

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