• Andrew Collins

The 2016/17 European Football Season in China

Updated: May 29, 2019


As the European football season comes to an end, every sports outlet is publishing their season wrap-up. However, at Mailman we don’t follow trends, we make them. That is why we’ve come up with a different approach to looking back at the ending 2016/2017 season. Here is an exclusive review of the European football season in China.

In the 2016/2017 pre-season, a lot of European clubs targeted the Chinese market by sending over their teams for exhibition matches or to take part in the ICC fixtures. The 2016 ICC delivered two exciting matches as BVB took on both Manchester Clubs. Unfortunately, the Manchester Derby, scheduled for Beijing, was cancelled due to heavy rainfall. The marketing results were a big success for the clubs, BVB headlining the figures with over 61 million Weibo reads and 500,000 live stream viewers around their China tour.

August brought the next Chinese acquisition of a European football club as West Bromwich Albion were sold to the Palm Investment Group, lead by Guochuan Lai, for £175 million.  

In September, the DFL-Supercup 2016 took place in Dortmund. The event was promoted in China by the ’DFL-Supercup Dream Tour’. Two fans won a trip to Germany, where they visited 3 Bundesliga clubs’ stadiums and training facilities, they also took a helicopter flight over Schalke’s VELTINS-Arena, and attended the official FC Köln season launch event. At the match, the fans were welcomed with shirts signed by Bayern Munich legends and watched the game in a hospitality suite. After the game, they were invited backstage to meet fan favourite Marco Reus.

September also saw OPPO launch a special edition smartphone in partnership with FC Barcelona. The campaign gained over 120 million hashtag reads and the phones that were signed by Messi, Neymar and Suarez were sold for over 88,000 RMB at auction.

In October, La Liga established their first official Chinese fan club in Shanghai as part of their China immersion strategy. It features both physical and virtual ways to interact with the club, the former includes an interactive gaming area, a museum, and a training school.


PPTV and the Premier League inked a record-breaking broadcast rights deal in November. After a fierce bidding war, the new PPTV deal, starting in 2019/2020, is worth twelve times its predecessor. With this, PPTV will have the ability to license the rights to online and paid TV operators. Also included in the deal is the provision of certain games to be broadcast on free-to-view television.

Another big announcement in November was the China-Germany Football Association partnership which saw Bayer Leverkusen and Cologne announce strategic partnerships with local Chinese clubs. Cologne’s agreement with Liaoning FC included a friendly match in Shenyang, Liaoning’s home city, with took place on the 24th of May. Bayer 04 also committed to a football development program with Inner Mongolia.

For some of the European leagues, December brought the winter break. Not so the Premier league, Manchester United’s New Year’s Eve clash with Stoke City hit over 100,000 reads on Weibo, setting a new single game engagement record, as Chinese fans remained hungry for European football.

The January winter transfer window was another busy month. One of the major talking points in Western sports media was the enormous transfer bids from clubs in China. Figures such as Oscar and Carlos Tevez joined the Chinese Super League. As a result of the deal with Shanghai Shenhua, Tevez became the highest paid footballer in the world, with an annual salary of $41 million.

In February, we celebrated Chinese New Year. One of the key cultural events of the year, several European clubs joined the celebrations by running campaigns. Tottenham took advantage of the fact that 2017 is the year of the rooster, which is also the animal shown on the Spurs logo. They ran several campaigns including bespoke countdown posters featuring players both in each of the Chinese zodiac years, limited edition warm-up jerseys were also worn by all of Tottenham’s players prior to their match against West Brom. These shirts were then signed by the players and awarded to fans as prizes. Furthermore, a live stream gave fans an exclusive tour of the changing rooms, the stadium and an interview with a Chinese fan.

March was a big month for European leagues in China, most notably the Bundesliga. VfL Wolfsburg and Bayern München officially opened offices in China. It was also the start of the Bundesliga Dream Campaign. Fans submitted their Bundesliga dreams in the hope that they would be granted. The competition ran for a month, at the end of which the lucky winners won a mixture of prizes including their dream trips to Germany, signed jerseys and video messages from their favourite players. The campaign became the most participated online football campaign in China, with 20 million. Weibo reads and over 45,000 submissions.

Two European leagues announced partnerships with Chinese Internet Platforms. The Bundesliga’s agreement with Baidu made them the first European football league to have an official web presence on Baidu. La Liga and Weibo have together announced a partnership through which Weibo will become the official social network platform of La Liga in China.

In April, Real Madrid launched their own app in China. The first of its kind, the app gives Chinese fans access to exclusive video and interactive content, interviews and match footage. Additional features also include a membership feature and an online shopping service.

In April, we saw the completion of the AC Milan takeover. The club became the second Italian team to come under Chinese ownership, the other being local rival Inter. The new owners, Chinese-led consortium Rossoneri Sport Investment Lux, finalised the $788 million deal after a year of tumultuous headlines. 


In May the former Premier League club, Reading FC, were the next club to be acquired by a Chinese investor. The siblings Dai Yongge and Dai Xiu Li, who were previously in negotiations to buy Hull City FC, become the fourth owners of the Berkshire-based club.

The LFC World tour arrived in Shanghai, with an event running 17th-21st of May. Four Liverpool legends, Sami Hyypiä, Luis Garcia, John Barnes and Robbie Fowler, were present at the event. Liverpool’s official channels gained 7.8 million hashtag exposure, 3.7 million Weibo reads and 14,000 live stream views.

Another event that built a lot of interest in China was the live streaming series hosted by BVB in May, it attracted 12 million total views across 4 episodes and was then extended by an additional 2.

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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