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China cashing in on World Cup fever

By Sun Xiaochen | China Daily Europe | Updated: 2018-07-01 09:29
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Massive media and sponsor presence propels nation to top of tournament's financial leaderboard

Even without sending a team to Russia, China is everywhere at the FIFA World Cup as the masses back home fuel unprecedented media and sponsor activity from the world's most populous nation.

A Chinese fan makes his presence known during the World Cup match between Germany and Mexico in Moscow. Francisco Leong / AFP

From field-side LED billboards to the teeming mixed zones and hospitality areas, China's presence at the tournament is ubiquitous, on and off the field.

Chinese sponsors lead the tournament's advertising standings, accounting for about $835 million (723 million; £638 million) of a $2.4 billion global splurge. That's $400 million more than the next biggest spender, the United States, and easily exceeds that of host country Russia, according to market-research company Zenith.

All this comes against a backdrop of a decline in interest from the Cup's traditional Western backers as the aftershocks of FIFA's corruption scandals continue to be felt financially.

"The ambition of Chinese brands going global is growing rapidly, while vacancies on the World Cup's expanded sponsorship structure have provided a shortcut to a top international marketing platform," says Jiang Lizhang, chairman of Chinese sports marketing company Desports, FIFA's exclusive sponsorship agency in Asia.

The fact that Chinese brands have snapped up three of the four Asian quotas in the third tier of FIFA's new three-level sponsoring system, compared to tepid advertising sales in North America and Europe, is indicative of the power shift in the tournament's money game.

The Russian World Cup will see the first involvement of up to 20"regional supporters" in five predesignated regions across the world.

A regional quota in Asia will cost $20 million - far cheaper than the top two tiers, "FIFA partner" and "tournament sponsor", while offering buyers marketing rights restricted within the region and lower advertising exposure, according to Desports.

Despite the limited rights, the price has made the regional slot a real bargain, says Kirin Li, chief executive and president of Chinese virtual-reality tech company LUCI.

"To be associated with the World Cup is probably the most effective way to tap into the global market and reach billions of fans or potential consumers of our products worldwide," Li says after securing a last-minute deal with FIFA to become a regional supporter.

Chinese e-bike manufacturer Yadea and Fujian-based menswear brand Diking are the other two regional supporters in Asia.

Chinese companies, including top-tier FIFA partner Wanda Group and second-level sponsor Hisense Electronics Co, have taken seven of the 17 FIFA sponsor slots, a far cry from four years ago when there was only one Chinese brand involved.

FIFA is not surprised.

"It's something that was expected," says Franck Guignery, FIFA's head of sales.

"The Chinese government's ambition to develop the game on a national basis is impressive and the growth plays a major part in FIFA's vision to increase soccer participation to 60 percent of the global population by 2026.

"The access offers companies that might not otherwise enter a global sponsorship deal the chance to do so. The value proposition is much stronger," says Guignery.

Chinese media are also feasting at the FIFA table, with the World Cup's total global audience forecast to hit 3.4 billion, according to research company GlobalWebIndex.

China has sent over 300 journalists, 200 of those accredited by FIFA, to cover the event, making it the biggest media legion, barring broadcast crews, among all noncompeting nations, according to a report on the Shanghai Observer website.

China's sizable media presence has even caused some unease among their foreign counterparts, if anecdotal evidence can be believed.

According to Japanese website Sportiva, before the opening match between Russia and Saudi Arabia on June 14, an unidentified Chinese reporter was quizzed by several baffled Argentine colleagues as to why he came so early to the tournament, after a quarrel broke out over the occupation of a seat in a media room.

According to China Central Television, the World Cup's exclusive TV broadcaster in China, over 128 million viewers - almost 10 percent of the population - tuned in to watch the opening match on multiple channels.

"After all, only about 40,000 Chinese ticketholders could enjoy the games live in Russia. The interest in the tournament back home is staggering and this is only the beginning," says Hong Jianping, a sports communication researcher with Beijing Sport University.


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