Business / Industries

Soccer fever fails to net company sponsorships in China

By Qiu Quanlin in Guangzhou (China Daily) Updated: 2012-06-12 10:47

Despite growing football fever on TV screens across China for Euro 2012, the tournament for all the top international teams in Europe has failed to ignite corporate sponsorship interest here.

According to Feng Tao, CEO of sports marketing firm Shankai Sports International, which is the authorized sales agent in China for the event, there have been sales of packages involving tickets and other hospitality at the matches themselves.

But not one corporate agreement in terms of actual sponsorship, has been agreed with the event organizers, the Union of European Football Associations.

"It is disappointing there is no link between this premier European soccer event and Chinese companies," Feng said.

The lack of interest is a surprise for many, given the promising relationships already developing between some leading Chinese corporate brands and a couple of big-name football clubs in Germany and Spain in recent years.

But Feng blamed the lack of sponsorship tie-ups for the flagship football tournament now underway in Poland and Ukraine, on short-term planning, and possibly a weak international marketing presence by many Chinese companies, which have failed to understand the huge potential of an event the size of and with the international profile of, Euro 2012.

"Most Chinese companies we contacted do not adopt long-term global marketing strategies, which, in turn, greatly affect their ability to increase their international presence," Feng told China Daily.

In addition, he suggested too few Chinese companies have a good enough understanding of sports marketing in general, and certainly for something as major as Euro 2012.

According to FIFA figures, the European event is expected to result in more than 1 billion yuan ($156 million) worth of consumption in China.

But there is also the suggestion that the current economic crisis engulfing many parts of Europe could have influenced the thinking of whether money spent on an event being held right now in the heart of the continent represents a valuable sponsorship or advertising platform.

Liu Xiang, deputy director of public relations at Peak Sport Product Co Ltd, one of the country's leading sportswear producers, added that many companies have been blinkered into thinking that this is just a European event that would have little impact in China, mainly because many of the matches are being played outside prime viewing times here, vastly reducing the commercial impact.

"The current economic slowdown in Europe has certainly dampened confidence in investing in Europe.

"So why would we join a sponsorship of this soccer event?" Liu added.

Euro 2012 is expected to draw 1.4 million fans to the host countries and will be broadcast to over 200 countries and regions, reaching several billion TV viewers.

One of the flagship sponsorships is with photographic products giant Canon Inc, which will mean worldwide TV audiences having the Canon logo appearing on screens every time a goal is scored throughout the tournament

The lack of commercial support for Euro 2012 here appears to fly in the face of other recent strong interest in football-related deals by Chinese firms in Europe, keen to improve their international presence by signing sponsorship deals with top European clubs.

Yingli Green Energy Holding Co Ltd, for instance, signed an agreement with the German giant Bayern Munich FC in January last year, to become an official premium partner of the famous Bundesliga club.

The Chinese firm, a leading solar energy producer and one of the world's largest photovoltaic manufacturers, which markets its products under the brand Ying Solar, was also a sponsor of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

However, experts also note that some sponsorship relations between Chinese companies and European soccer clubs have been strained in the past.

Spanish club Espanyol, for example, recently announced it had chosen not to renew its existing agreement with the leading Chinese sportswear producer Li-Ning Co Ltd, whose products the famed La Liga club had worn for the past two seasons.

Instead, the team is expected to switch to Puma, according to a recent statement on its website.

Espanyol had described its relationship with Li-Ning as "excellent and fruitful" with the Chinese company having used the sponsorship to expand its profile through Spain.

But due to Puma's more international image and reach, the Spanish club said it would be working in future with the German shoe and sportswear brand "to develop our business interests, brand and reputation".

Li-Ning had signed a four-year sponsorship deal with the club in February 2010, which made Espanyol the first European soccer club to sign with a Chinese sportswear firm.

But Xie Liang, a veteran soccer commentator with Radio Guangdong in Guangzhou, said he wasn't surprised by the switch by Espanyol, and that such deals illustrate just how far some Chinese companies still have to go to understand the international sports marketing business.

"There is still a long way to go for Chinese companies in their move to increase international presence by sponsoring European soccer clubs, given that Chinese brands are less competitive compared with those international brands," he said.

"The real fact is that Chinese companies, mostly, have not fully understand what the soccer industry is about.

"They have less knowledge of making profits out of investing in the international soccer industry," Xie told China Daily.

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