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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Collins

The Impact of Sports Digital in China During Coronavirus

Since late January, China has been courageously battling the deadly COVID-19, which has tragically claimed more than 2000 lives in the country and infected tens of thousands more. Household restrictions are gradually being loosened, businesses are returning to work, and over a billion people will leave their homes following a month of regulated confinement.

As the world rallied to help, the international sports community united in support of the nation and its people. Millions of dollars were donated in funds and supplies, while interaction with Chinese sports fans increased due to an abundance of supportive messages, videos, motifs, jerseys, graphics, and well wishes. A global act of unity throughout the sports community is powerful.

Messages of Support

Sports organisations reacted quickly. Widespread praise was given to those that donated and supported. It wasn’t a case of bandwagons being jumped on or trying too hard to stand out. The sentiment was meant and delivered with care.

Videos from teams and players sending personal messages to China were gratefully received, along with thousands of '加油中国‘ slogans and creative ‘Stay Strong China’ graphics. A number of clubs went further, with Paris-Saint Germain showcasing ‘Stay Strong China’ on the front of the first team jersey, FC Barcelona mascots embroidered in ‘Stay Strong Wuhan’ shirts, and Suning-owned Inter Milan playing in a special ‘Forza China’ jersey which was auctioned off after the game with proceeds donated to Wuhan. Donations and messages of support still continue to come in today.

Part Saint-Germain's first team line up before home match against Bordeaux, with 'Stay Strong China' messaging
PSG First Team - Stay Strong China

The outpouring of emotional fan messages and local media coverage highlighted the positive impact made across the country. CCTV, China Daily, the People’s Daily to name a few, have picked up on supportive social content and offline campaigns, dedicating many articles and headlines to what clubs have been doing to help as China’s citizens face the grave situation head-on.

Engagement & Opportunity

While events are being postponed or cancelled altogether, the opportunity to engage your audience is hot. Unlike the 2003 SARS epidemic, now the communities are rallying together online. Sports properties have largely been more engaged and showing real touch by acknowledging the hardship the Chinese fans have had to endure.

Online sports broadcaster PP Sports made all football viewing free during the extended CNY period, resulting in a 151% increase in consumption, while iQIYI Sports made the El Classico match between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona free to watch.

European football clubs saw impressive numbers on Weibo. Compared to the CNY period in 2019, there was a huge 77% increase in total engagement and a 79% increase in follower growth, racking up an impressive combined 28.5m total video views in the process. In the three weeks from Jan 14, online usage grew over 20% to 6.11b hours – over 6 hours per Chinese online. In total, over 50% of active football clubs on Weibo posted messages of support, and over 25% using a dedicated hashtag page in support of the fight against COVID-19.

Back to Reality

China is returning to some kind of normality. The international sports community can be proud of the way they have supported China and its people. It was important that the right messages were being delivered in the right way, both online and offline. Many Chinese sports fans will be able to take some solace that they weren’t alone during this fight.

As China’s roads, offices, and subways fill up again, there will be huge amounts of pent up energy to return to a fit and healthy lifestyle. The long-term effects of the past 5 weeks are tough to predict right now. If the country can remain as resolute over the coming months as it has done in the last one, China and its industries will be fighting fit again very soon.


This article originally featured in Campaign Asia

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