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For foreign football clubs: social media improves popularity in China

By Chen Yaping 29 Feb 2016

China, long regarded as a football backwater, is now entering a boom era in terms of the extravagant transfer spending and purchase deals in recent months.

Against this background, foreign clubs are competing online to build their reputations and grow their following in China.

According to the Red Card 2016 China Digital Football Index, Bayern Munich, followed by Manchester United and Liverpool, have the best digital media presence in China. As shown in the report, WeChat follower numbers are revealed publicly for the first time ever with 4 clubs reaching over 50,000 followers.

Foreign football clubs are always interested in marketing themselves in China, since many of them have a wide range of sports fans across the country.

But the problem is the language barrier. This has limited the appeal of foreign clubs’ websites while censorship restrictions have meant Chinese fans cannot follow their teams on traditional western social media like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. That’s why football clubs like AS Roma and Juventus have recently opened WeChat accounts, following their launch on Sina Weibo.

Clubs can choose different social media outlets in China. According to a report posted by China Business Weekly, China's key social media and messaging platforms, with their corresponding penetration rates (measured as the percentage of Internet users who have used them recently) are: WeChat (24 per cent), QZone (21 per cent), Sina Weibo (16 per cent), Baidu Tieba (14 per cent) and Tencent Weibo (12 per cent).

It is also worth noting that foreign football clubs should be aware of media restrictions in China. Last week, Chinese authorities suspended more than 580 social media accounts, including those of popular commentators, for spreading rumours, confusing people or going against the constitution.

Therefore, if foreign clubs want to expand their presence in China, they ought to hire professional agencies for the social media businesses. For example, when Sunderland AFC launched their Chinese website earlier this year, it was announced that Dafabet, the club’s principal partner and shirt sponsor, would be assisting on the project, affording the club the opportunity to grow its presence in Asia. 

Proofread by John Devlin.

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