CHINA: The Top Summer Destination for European Football Clubs
Updated: Jun 7, 2019
This summer, there are a record number of European Football clubs coming to China.
Coming to China for a summer tour is not a new initiative for European clubs; in fact, the first team to make the journey to the far East was Inter Milan in the summer of 1978 when they played 4 games in Beijing against several football teams, including Beijing FC.
However, in recent years, China has gone from an afterthought to a major priority for foreign clubs as visits have more than doubled since 2011. This year AC Milan, Inter Milan, and Real Madrid will compete in ICC China. Bayern Munich will have their own tour starting in Shenzhen and traveling for games in Guangzhou and Shanghai, participating in the Audi Cup. Top teams from the Serie A will also send Juventus and Atletico Madrid for friendly matches against local clubs. It’s unprecedented to have this level of activity in China from the biggest football clubs in the world. One look at the schedule is enough to even get a casual football fan overexcited!
Why are clubs coming to China?
To develop the fan base
From the club’s perspective, the most important thing is to expand is the club’s international influence, especially in China, as it’s Asia’s most populous nation. Since the football level is simply not very high, fans are thirsty to experience high level of players and the teams from Europe live, in-person.
To activate Sponsorship
Making the trip to China also has financial motivations as clubs seek sponsorship from Asian companies. Manchester United for example, has Asian sponsors that include companies like Nissan,Toshiba, China Construction Bank, and Wahaha. In fact, Wahaha is United’s first Chinese sponsor – pairing England’s most recognized football club with China’s largest drink manufacturer. Indeed, all of the sponsorship deals happened after United’s summer tour in Shanghai 2013, signifying a direct benefit from Man U’s visit to China. These are the types of partnership opportunities that can only happen if teams invest their time and energy coming to China.
Man U is not the only club with Chinese sponsorship. Atlético Madrid has received investment from both Wanda Group, as they are the largest owner of the club, as well as Huawei, the Chinese mobile phone company.
Huawei has strong track record of sponsoring football clubs as they have also have partnerships with Arsenal and AC Milan. Similarly, just this past March, Lvyuan electromobile began sponsorship of Real Madrid’s sponsor.
What’s different in China?
However, these sponsorships must be activated when teams come to China. Sponsors need them to expanded the tour’s influence and top players must appear on the pitch. Although, every coin has two sides. Clubs want their players to rest during the summer after a whole season’s play of over 50 matches, including international games. Conversely, the fans demand to see the top players. In 2012, Manchester United came to Shanghai for a summer tour but because of the EURO and Olympic games, a lot of top players didn’t come to Shanghai, leaving many Chinese fans disappointed. Although fans in China are still very active, we still want to see our stars face to face.
One of the major draws for all the European clubs who are visiting China is the huge number of football fans that live here. And while the there are many financial reasons as to why teams would visit (merchandise sales, global branding, Chinese sponsorships), as European football fans, many of us just want to witness the top stars in the game playing at the highest of levels. It will definitely be interesting to see if more teams follow suit and plan Chinese summer tours. I, for one, would not be disappointed!