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Workshop: How Rights Holders Drive Digital Engagement in China

At the Leaders Sport Business Summit in Beijing, Mailman had the chance to host a workshop entitled 'How Rights Holders Drive Digital Engagement in China'. The session was a first of its kind for us at Mailman so I wanted to share some of the notes and takeaways I made during the workshop. We are excited about hosting more of these in the future so be sure to get in touch if you'd like to know more!



Q1. What is different about Chinese fans behaviour?


Background: Knowing who the fans are and what they like is crucial to success anywhere in the world. In this first part of the workshop, we examined some of the most recent trends along with some deeper seated insights that make Chinese fans truly unique.


We started with some surface observations:


  • Fans follow good looking players a lot more. This has given several clubs and teams both larger followings and a higher percentage of female fans than would be expected to be seen in the West. A good example of how best to take advantage of this is Borussia Dortmund.

  • Generally, stars that are willing to show some vulnerability and emotion in their personality are able to foster a much deeper relationship with Chinese fan bases and also have been shown to see wider appeal too.Great body shape is also important to Chinese fans. Physically impressive, athletic players are usually seen as more appealing.

With this out of the way, we dived deeper into what works:

  • There is a limited grassroots sporting culture to draw from. Few fans have the sort of competitive playing background that most 'traditional' sports fans do.

  • The market, and China, in general, is very mobile-centric. The fans spend a lot of time on their smartphones so you need to meet them there, rather than drawing them out to somewhere else.

  • Fans focus on the stars, most of the time they follow the players over the clubs or teams. Wherever they go and regardless of continued success for their old team, the fans will follow the stars.

  • Following on from this loyalty is limited. Outside of one or two outliers, if the success drys up, the fans will begin to look elsewhere.

To add to the points that we discussed, there are few things that we didn't have time for but are worth mentioning:

  • Fans are sensitive, they are emotional. This can be both a help and a hindrance, approach it carefully.

  • The success of the team can often reflect their own happiness and pride. Their passion runs deep so be sensitive with how you handle certain things.

  • They expect a lot, it’s tribal and they challenge each other. If you can win over and support your core fans, it will go a long way in boosting strong organic growth.

We discussed some of the cultural implications for driving engagement:


  • Lifestyle-led content draws a wider audience, don't keep it strictly sport.

  • Entertainment crossovers are a great way of drawing new audiences, however, it can be difficult to hold on to them with your regular content.

  • Showing more value in careers, opportunities and money gives more confidence to parents and will clear the way for your young fans to be fans for life.

A question was asked about building your audience with a small community or geographic location first. We believe this is a great approach - engage your core and have them drive your community forward. Organise & empower them. 


Q2. How can you engage your fans in China?


  • This topic drew a wide discussion from the use of new technologies to the value of touring in China. The key points were:

  • Individual player tours are a great way of inspiring both media and general engagement

  • Social media delivers your personality and acts as a platform to connect with your core audience

  • KOL’s can be highly effective as they hold more influence in China than influencers do in the West

  • Celebrity interactions are common, but be mindful: it’s an expensive option and doesn’t ensure long-term impact

  • Campaigns for prizes are great, easy to play and execute. However, they don't always deliver the right fan

  • Follow local trends and use it in your storytelling. The time you spend on learning about stories and using them will pay off.

  • Live streaming as a great tool to give fans a taste of the product and give real-time engagement, which brings a tighter relationship.

Q3. What to avoid in digital engagement in China?


This discussion featured a telling story from the NFL and the importance of ensuring the entire organisation is aware that what happens outside of China, can have a huge impact on what happens in China. 


  • Respect the fan, don’t be disingenuous because they will find you out.

  • Always be authentic (enough of the CNY videos), find new ways to engage

  • .Be mindful of the 3 T’s (Tiananmen, Taiwan & Tibet)

  • Respect the local position on geographic positions (Taiwan = China)

  • Watch for the 1000’s of sensitive words in China (we've actually developed a tool within KAWO to allow us to stay on top of this)

  • Localise content, don’t just repackage your global content

  • Time for posting content, make sure it’s right for China

  • Tattoos are taboo on social pics and video, avoid them whenever you can.

  • Ensure good relationships with media for maximum reach, it has heavy influence in China.

  • Try not to use the No.4 around campaigns or big stars (sounds like death in China).

In summary, I encourage you as marketers to think about bigger questions with respect to your programmes. Ask yourself ‘what role can your sports property play in the development of China’s sports economy?’. The closer you are aligned to this the greater support you’ll see from government, media, and brands.


To learn more about our story go here.


For more on our platform for digital & social media management visit here - www.kawo.com.


To keep up to date with all the latest China sports business news - subscribe to our weekly here.

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