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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Collins

China Tour Takeaways

It is now a well established trend for European football clubs to take part in a preseason summer tour. Clubs aim to not only prepare for the upcoming season, but also to increase awareness of their organisation, their sponsors and interact directly with their fans outside of their respective nations. China, as a result of its huge potential market and ever increasing focus on football, is a central part of many clubs preseason plans. We looked at Sina Weibo to analyse who performed strongest off the pitch and what approach is best whilst on tour in China.


The Top Performers

The biggest winners, based on followers gained and total engagement (a combination of likes, reposts and comments) whilst on tour


Enhanced Follower Growth and Engagement 

Comparing 10 days prior to the 10 days teams were in China

Every teams’ engagement increased throughout their time in China, compared with the 10 days prior (5th – 14th July). In particular Bayern, whose engagement reached 91,690 during their trip. This highlights the scale of the impact that touring in China has on interaction from fans.

In terms of growth, Bayern and Liverpool were the only teams whose follower rate did not improve from the 10 days prior to the tour with Dortmund being the most successful gaining 19,543 new followers. This was mirrored by the other German teams as they also achieved strong returns.

Being in China allows clubs to interact/connect directly with fans which leads to a spike in interest. This encompasses more than just the core fans which impacts both growth and engagement.

The performance of the Bundesliga teams is no surprise having been ranked as the most popular league online in China earlier this year in Mailman’s Annual Red Card. The Bundesliga Weibo account’s engagement was much higher (24,150) than its closest competitors (Premier league – 9,698 and La Liga – 7,628) as was its follower growth.


Live Streaming Live streaming proved very popular for many teams. Both AC and Inter Milan’s live streaming content were their most successful posts for both reach and engagement. Both clubs live streamed their arrival at the airport and AC also streamed their first press conference. The most watched live streams of the summer were Borussia Dortmund’s which gained 5.4 million total views.

For fans, live streaming is convenient and presents a chance to feel involved when they are not at an event. It provides a look at their idols and how their favourite clubs operate whilst also offering the opportunity to get involved by asking questions and interacting with other fans.

Interaction With Chinese Culture Many teams made an effort to engage with Chinese culture. China is very proud of its culture and landmarks, therefore seeing their favourite players interacting directly with it, leads to more popular content. Chelsea and AC Milan utilised this approach with positive results. Chelsea players trying their hand at Kung Fu whilst AC Milan stars had a go at cooking traditional dim sum (Chinese dumplings). Additionally, Bayern organised a light show across the famous Shanghai skyline. The post was accompanied by pictures of the show with phrases such as “Bayern loves Shanghai” which appeared on the skyscrapers.

Showing Appreciation for Chinese Fans

The majority of clubs were very good at showing their appreciation for their fans’ support. For example, images of Schalke players clapping and thanking fans at the end of a game was their most engaged post. Chinese fans like to know they are appreciated and therefore any post expressing a clubs appreciation for its fans is likely to be successful.

Club Legends

Any content involving club legends received high levels of engagement. A few teams brought famous ex-players out with them to China to partake in various media activities and help generate further excitement for the tour. For example, Bayern brought along club legend Miroslav Klose and Liverpool were joined by Robbie Fowler and Ian Rush. Posts surrounding club legends are always well received, owing to Chinese fans’ love for them and how much they value their opinion on current players and other club matters. Bayern’s announcement that Klose was joining their tour was their top post.

Chelsea’s Apology

Not all popular content is positive, however. The most engaged post from the whole tour was Chelsea’s apology for Kenedy’s social media comments (13,385). The next highest post, AC Milan’s opening China tour press conference live stream was way behind (6,298). Kenedy’s comments quickly garnered widespread attention which focussed on Chelsea’s Weibo apology. Had Chelsea acted slightly faster it may not have escalated to the same level, highlighting the level of attention needed on digital strategy whilst on tour.

Lessons :

  1. Innovation of content is key, use new platforms to get your content where the fans are already

  2. Make an effort to give the fans what they want, rather than what’s easy or works in the West

  3. Show appreciation for fans and make them feel valued

  4. Never underestimate the power of club legends and their appeal to knowledgeable superfans

  5. If something goes wrong, own up to it and accept responsibility

Mailman is a sports digital consultancy and marketing platform and a leader in the China Sports Marketing industry. We help global rights holders, athletes, and leagues to build a successful business in China.

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