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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Collins

How Port Adelaide Brought Footy to China

On Sunday 14th May, Shanghai will play host to round 8 of the 2017 AFL season as Port Adelaide Football Club (PAFC) take on the Gold Coast Suns in the first ever AFL match to be played for premiership points outside of Australia or New Zealand. The former is, to a large extent, responsible for the AFL’s successful expansion into the Chinese market. Here’s a closer look at PAFC’s approach in China.

Before Port Adelaide pushed into the market, there was very little engagement with the AFL in China. One exhibition match was held in 2010, which was followed by the construction of an AFL oval in Tianjin and the establishment of an academy in the following year.

However, the major expansion began in 2014 when Port Adelaide, also known as ‘The Power’, decided to look to China. From the beginning, their goal has been to establish a complete long-term engagement strategy, including long-term relations with sponsors, interacting with fans on Chinese social media and working with sports education programs. The aim was to create awareness not only for the club and the sport but for Australia as a whole.

In 2015, Port Adelaide ventured further into the Chinese market, with a special focus on brand awareness. A new broadcast deal between CCTV5 and the AFL played into their hands. The deal meant that CCTV5 now shows PAFC home games, as well as broadcasting a 25-week documentary and magazine series entitled ‘The AFL Show’, designed to introduce Chinese viewers to the sport of Australian Football. In addition, highlights of all AFL games are now shown on CCTV5. The first AFL show in 2016 was seen by two million viewers.

In 2016, PAFC further developed their presence in China through numerous partnerships with local businesses. Several big investors now work with the club, including Shanghai CRED, a well-established property development company, and the prominent Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific Airlines. AFL’s chief executive Gillio McLachlan notes that the engagement of Port Adelaide will ‘build a bridge to China’ and benefits both Australia and all AFL clubs.

But the campaign is not only focussed on capital, PAFC is trying to encourage the Chinese to participate in Aussie Rules. To do this, The Power supports university programs, runs training courses in Chinese schools, and sponsors both the Chinese national team and the South China Australian Football League.

The Power started reaping the fruits of its labour when they recruited the AFL’s first Chinese-born player Chen Shaoliang last year. The signing provides a huge boost for the engagement in China, both in terms of fanbase and participation. This can be seen by the fact that Chen got his own show on CCTV5 as part of the CCTV/AFL deal. PAFC even had a visit from President Xi Jinping during a fixture in March.

Fan activation, capital attraction, and sports education are the three pillars of PAFC’s China strategy. By building a fanbase, the club can leverage its other goals. The impressively renovated Jiangwan stadium will host Sunday’s game, to which tickets sold out in under 3 hours, with the crowd a mixture of travelling Australians, fans from around Asia and plenty of locals.

Port Adelaide sees this match as the starting point of a long and fruitful partnership between the AFL and China. PAFC will present the AFL commission in the next couple of months, outlining a five-year view on China, including an annual game for the Power in China. Maybe next year the Chinese Fans can cheer another up-and-coming Chinese AFL star alongside Chen Shaoliang.

Mailman is a China sports digital marketing agency. We help deliver expert digital & social media programs for the world’s most powerful sports organisations in China.

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