English Premier League giants Arsenal FC is currently on an engaging FA Cup trophy tour in China, where the club's legend Robert Pires and the club's head of marketing department Charles Allen also unveiled Arsenal's soccer school programme in the country. Yutang Sports had a chance to talk to the duo alongside Tony Gu in Shanghai.
Interviewer: Yutang Sports
Interviewees: Robert Pires (R), former Arsenal player
Charles Allen (C), head of marketing at Arsenal
Tony Gu (T); CBO of Arsenal Asia
Y:Hello Robert,could you briefly introduce your current situation to your supporters in China?
R:I think for me or for Arsenal......(Y: for yourself) For me? I think for Arsenal and for me, it’s the same. I work for the club, I think it’s a good opportunity for China. Because Arsenal is a good team in UK. So you share the resources and hope you can work together for the present or for the future.
Y: What’s your opinion about Chinese Football Association? Super League? Do you know something about that?
R: I think you need to prove. Because when I see the ranking, you are forward. It’s not the problem, but you need to work, especially with the young pals.
Y: OK, next question. Do you have a plan for coaching in the future? Or will you see yourself as a potential runner of football schools like Ronaldo or Luis Figo does in China?
R: No, for football coach, no. I don’t have any plans. I don’t have imagined it,because of some literal problems. But maybe one day. Because everything is possible. For the moment, no. For opening football schools like Ronaldo and Figo, yeah, I think it’s a very good idea for the country. Because Ronaldo and Figo, they are very good players. If you mix Ronaldo, Figo and Chinese players, I think it’s very good.
Y:What do you think are the key factors that lead Arsenal FC to a large fan base in China? Why do you have so many fans in China?
R: It’s a good question. I think it’s not for me why so many fans in China. What they choose is Arsenal. Maybe because it’s a good team. It’s popular. They won a lot of titles. The football is very good when you see it on the TV. The squad, the quality is very good. Yeah, I think it’s for this. You can ask Charles. This is my opinion.
Y: Charles, what’s your opinion on that question.
C: I think the combination is very same as Robert says, plus they focus on the attention, the football club is placing on this market. So the fact that we’re here this week, for the trophy tour. We’ve been here preseasons a few times. This is not the first time Robert has been here. We have been here with Fred Ljungberg. We place the whole attention on digital engagement. We have a Chinese website. We have a Chinese Weibo, a lot of Chinese content. And all about these factors together, as Robert says, it all starts with the team.
T：So I totally agree with what Robert said and Charles said, both from football side and fans’ engagement. Because it all starts from football with Robert, with invisible seasons. We have 49 get unbeaten that made it fantastic, that’s why Chinese football fans start to know us now, start to follow us now. But that is just the beginning. If you wanna really win the fans in China, you have to get in touch with them. So in general for Arsenal, definitely, football is the foundation, is the beginning. If we can continue to do that for maybe five to ten years, you will see Arsenal will be the number one football club in China. I am sure.
Y: With big money being injected into the area, Chinese professional football clubs have made some progresses. However, Team China are struggling at international stage. Accordingly, both the Chinese government and enterprises are paying more attention the youth training. Do you have any advice on youth training? And in your opinion, what would help develop Chinese football into a better form?
R: My opinion is you have a good potential because your country is big. You can set up some football academy, because academy is very important for the kids and for the young player. Of course you need to have some polices for the development. I know your president loves football. This is very good. Maybe you can ask Arsenal for some advise, some management, so you can mix the European football and Chinese football and you can work together. If you work with Arsenal at this point, this is a good opportunity because Arsenal knows everything and the football in high level. You can ask something to Arsenal for some advice.
Y: Could you please share your plans for the next few years with Chinese fans? Thank you.
R: yes. We have plans for Chinese market. China is an important market for Arsenal. We will continue to remain a good relation with china.
T: we have plans to bring Robert back again. Maybe next summer there will be a legend tournament with all the Arsenal old players to play again for Arsenal.
Y: Hello, Charles. As we know, Chelsea FC has exhibited their Premier League trophy in China earlier this year while Arsenal FC is displaying the FA Cup in the country. Compared to Chelsea, what will Arsenal focus during the exhibition? And what kind of outcome are you expecting?
C: It’s really important for members here in China to give them the opportunity as a benefit of the membership to come to the exhibition, having a photo with the trophy, having a photo with Robert. It’s great and what we then hope to happen is those fans will put them on Weibo, and message will grow that Arsenal is doing more activities in this country.
As we planed additional things as Tony was saying so maybe a legend tournament, another preseason tour. Hopefully, this season we win the Premier League, then we will bring the Premier League trophy and we will do it better than Chelsea.
Y: Could you please introduce Arsenal FC’s presence in global commercial development? And do you have any expansion marketing strategy in the global market?
C: Yes. Football clubs can be measured in a variety of ways. You can either say how many fans you have in the world or how many social media you have in the world. But a good measure is commercial revenue. So we have a clear plan of how we’re gonna grow in terms of commercial revenues. I think the example of that is how we refocus on our efforts in global markets unless in the UK market. So we’re focusing now more in international markets, more in Asia and particularly more in China.
Y：As we all know, Premier League clubs emphasis the services to fan engagement. Could you please describe what kind of high-quality services have Arsenal FC provided to the fans and how is the connection between the club and fans? And does the Club have any particular plan to promote this sector in the future?
C：As we have said, engagement with the fans is the most important thing, you can’t just expect TV to grow your club any more. We have to develop relevant content for Arsenal fans in China, because again this market is developing, there’re football fans here who are quite new to football and don’t necessarily understand it as well as someone might be living in London, Arsenal fan for 30 years. We have to make sure we have the balance of football stories with life stories about the players, so the fans here can get to know the players a little bit more. For the players, to interact with Chinese fans in a culturally relevant way.
Y：Do you see any Huawei’s sponsorship to the club? And what kind of opportunity do you think sponsorship from Chinese brands will bring the club’s promotions in China?
C：Huawei is a sponsor of ours, and they sponsor other football clubs of across Europe. So bringing Arsenal and Huawei together in China to perform in activities just like here with Emirates, now it is the Emirates FA Cup. Emirates is surrounded with promotions here. Tomorrow we’re going to Puma store with Robert to meet the fans, meet with PUMA guy and do some stuffs in the store. One thing a sponsor want is to put the name on the shirt and badge on the wall, but the real magic happens is when you bring it into life in an activity, like we’re this week with the FA Cup, like we’ll do with Huawei and like we do with PUMA, like we do with all our big partners.
Y：As Tony Gu once revealed, Arsenal will build 50 football schools in China. Can I ask how is the plan going?
C: As I mentioned earlier, in the first year, we will establish 5 soccer schools with iRENA across major tier-1 cities in China. And that’ll be the real establishment of the relationship, we’ll make the soccer schools and play football in an Arsenal way, a perfect way. Just last week, two of our coach talked with iRena about how to set the scheme up and how to run coaching module and training some of the coaches to do it just like our coaches back in the UK. And tomorrow we announce it officially, and that will be step one. And every month, I hope, we’ll be opening a new soccer school in a new city and playing in an Arsenal Way in lots of cities. We’d rather start small, focus and get grow and build out. We can do it with iRENA and perform with ourselves.
Note: This article is an abridged one from the original interview.