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Soccer now giving basketball a run for its money in China

By Wang Mingjie | China Daily UK | Updated: 2017-06-07 16:56

Soccer is closing in on basketball, China's most popular sport, according to a new report.

Soccer now giving basketball a run for its money in China

Manchester United's Wayne Rooney celebrates with the trophy after winning the FA Community Shield. [Photo/Agencies] 

The study, by Brand Finance, a London-based brand valuation consultancy, says soccer is now second in the popularity stakes behind basketball in terms of fan numbers. But the China Fan Research 2017 report notes that soccer fans are already outcompeting basketball fans in terms of their purchasing of merchandise- it said 20 percent of soccer fans buy such branded products.

The findings show Chinese fans are very familiar with the English Premier League and Germany's Bundesliga, with 83 percent and 70 percent, respectively, expressing support. The study found around 61 percent watch soccer on TV and 65 percent watch basketball.

Respondents were asked to pick their five favorite clubs from around the world. China's Guangzhou Evergrande was first with 34 percent. Manchester United was second with 31 percent. Man United was the most successful among Europe's soccer brands in China, which contributes to its valuation of 1.3 billion pounds ($1.7 billion).

Mark Dreyer, a Beijing-based sports writer who edits the China Sports Insider website, said: "It's important for international observers to distinguish between how fans are defined in China, versus the rest of the world. For example, respondents here have been asked to pick five clubs they like. In the West, most fans would simply pick one, but in China it's seen as acceptable to like both Real Madrid and Barcelona."

Dreyer pointed out that if the Chinese Super League continues to improve - and the Chinese national team also improves - then soccer could become the top sport.

The research found that 88 percent of respondents would like to see more soccer websites and content in their native language, something sports insiders say European clubs should be aware of.

Bayern Munich is the second most popular overseas club in China, with 23 percent of respondents naming it among their favorites. The club opened an office in Shanghai and two soccer schools, in Qingdao and Shenzhen, this year.

Real Madrid is third with a following of 21 percent, while Cristiano Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane have been identified as China's most popular player and manager respectively.

The fact that Real Madrid falls behind Manchester United and Bayern Munich in many of the metrics shows that the world's strongest soccer brand is not fully capitalizing on its position, said Andy Moore, Brand Finance's insights director.

"The importance of the Chinese market for football is growing and the trend is reflected in the differences in brand value between those clubs that do well in China and those that are only starting to realize the country's potential," he said.

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