Soccer frenzy draws crowds, sponsors
By Emma Gonzalez(China Daily)
Updated: 2015-08-06 11:25:00
Huang Huan, a young professional in her thirties, does not consider herself to be a soccer fan.
Yet, she spent 580 yuan ($93.4) on a single ticket - a small fortune for the average Chinese - to watch Germany's Bayern Munich and Spain's Valencia CF play at Beijing's Olympic stadium recently.
Huang is one of the millions of Chinese who were caught up in a summer soccer frenzy.
"European soccer is the talk of the town," she said, explaining the expenditure.
Soccer has grown into a social phenomenon in China that is now reaching far beyond the bounds of mere sport.
It has become the ultimate moneymaking machine.
Eight teams from Europe's soccer elite traveled to China during July and August, to play in four different tournaments to cash in on the growing appetite for the sport here.
While reaping the huge financial benefits of increasingly competitive leagues back home, the addition of new markets and sponsors elsewhere is also making a huge difference to the bottom lines of some of Europe's biggest names.
The latest figures from UK-based consultancy firm Deloitte suggest that by the end of the 2016-17 season, the European soccer market is expected to worth 25 billion euros ($27.38 billion), up from 20 billion euros in 2013-14, boosted by a growing interest in the sport in Asia and the United States.
According to Bayern Munich executive board member Jorg Wacker: "China has become our new focus market and our research shows that we now have 90 million potential fans in the country."
The Bundesliga champions raked in more than $10 million from their recent nine-day China trip, according to German newspaper Bild.
Italy's Inter Milan, another giant of the European game, meanwhile, sold a total of 92,000 tickets for the three matches it played in China.
Mario Oliveto, a sports marketing expert and former executive at Adidas AG, said the success of these summer tournaments relies on their capacity to win hearts and consolidate long-term sponsorship deals with Chinese companies.
"Broadcast rights, sponsorship and merchandising agreements are the keys, while ticket sales are a more limited source of revenue, given the time of year."
Andrew Collins, a Shanghai-based digital entrepreneur with Mailman Group, who specializes in helping European soccer teams establish an online presence in China, said the summer tours were all about creating long-term sponsorship agreements between the teams and Chinese companies.
Chinese sponsors, he said, including the Chinese telecommunications company Qbao Corp, are playing a more active role in the global sports industry.
"We are seeing an increasing number of Chinese sponsors becoming more influential.
"Rayo Vallecano (a team currently playing in La Liga, Spain's top-flight division) just hired a Chinese player, Zhang Chengdong, and that's clearly part of a sponsorship deal," said Collins.
"That is a serious way to try to build the brand and get exposure in the Chinese market."
Qbao secured a three-year sponsorship deal with Rayo Vallecano last year.
The 25-year-old winger Zhang will spend the coming season on loan at the Madrid-based club, from his Chinese club Beijing Guo'an, becoming the first Chinese player to play in La Liga.
Although no financial details were disclosed, Spanish media reported that Qbao paid 600,000 euros in sponsoring rights, subject to two conditions: The team's participation in a China tour and the addition of a Chinese player. Zhang's signing was confirmed during the tour.
Inter also used its tour to celebrate a 20-year sponsorship deal with Pirelli SpA, the world's fifth-largest tire manufacturer, by inviting distributors and dealers from Guangdong province and South Asia to meet the players.