From China Sports Media’s 1.15 billion USD (8 billion CNY) CSL exclusive media proprietors, to Evergrade Group’s 14.4 million USD (1000 million CNY) bonuses on the journey to the sixth CSL championship win for Evergrade football club, certainly the huge amount of capital not only made CSL valuable enough for the world’s great players to come here, but also attracted and expanded more fandom members with the CSL’s gradually increasing quality of competition.
According to CFA Data, the total number of spectators to enjoy CSL games around stadiums in the 2015 season was 5.3 million, which was 16.8% up from the 4.5 million spectators in the 2014 season. The number of spectators is expected to have increased by at least 100,000 people in the 2016 season. Unlike in Britain, Chinese football fans were not the initial founders, players or employers of Chinese professional football clubs, so they may not have established such a deep relationship with the football clubs they support. Like consumers, regional identity and their teams’ high level of competitiveness give Chinese fans the motivation to purchase tickets, and to express their passion around stadiums.
Just as satellite TV changed the way fans enjoyed football games after the 1950s, now it is the prosperous social media and convenient technologies such as mobile internet and HD self-video systems. The curiosity of Chinese football fans is no longer satisfied by game reports or live broadcast alone. They want to try interacting with the football clubs they support.
From this perspective, high quality performance in competition and winning in particular events may gradually lose its advantage for Chinese professional football clubs. There is no guarantee that clubs can maintain a stable amount of fandom members, and keep strengthening the allegiance of fans to them. Fortunately, Chinese football clubs also consider interaction with fans as a new tool to foster their fans’ sense of belonging. Thus, several refined strategies for clubs to address fans’ interactive needs have been brought into play.
Producing fans’ own video to show fans’ own football games
Like the British ‘Little Charlie’, the young fan of Manchester United FC, his cute face and sharp comments on Manchester United games make him popular among fans. Chinese fans also share their own videos with comments about football games on different internet platforms. For example, videos of various fans’ critical and angry comments on the Chinese men’s football team were fully shared on WeChat, when this team lost the World Cup qualification game in Xian.
By importing the comment structure of FanTV and offering Chinese fans a platform to share their own videos, Weiwo FanTV became a popular social media during the period of the 2012 European Championships. Its videos attracted the attention of a significant numbers of fans and were shared on various internet platforms.
Having looked at this, Chinese professional clubs and the national team set up a cooperation with Weiwo for their refined video service. For example, as the media partner of the China Football Industry Development Corporation, they produced the first official fan video ‘Dream Chaser.’ This was released in Kunming, the Chinese football team’s home ground. It had the effect of increasing the interaction between fans and the Chinese football team as well as stimulating fans national identity and national emotion. In addition to Weiwo FanTV, that cooperation soon helped them take over a huge proportion of the sporting media industries. After Kunming, they also obtained a cooperation with the CFA CUP.
Advertising official App to improve fans’ sense of belonging
On the 15th October, Shandong Luneng Taishan Football Club became the 10th club with its own official App in the CSL. At that time, fans of the Luneng club finally found their own internet platform to define which social community they belonged to.
For the management of Luneng football club, they believed this official App could satisfy all the information needs of their fans. Also, this App could promote the fans’ sense of belonging to Luneng football club. This was a direct channel to interact with the football club, even though there were popular social media such as WeChat and Weibo where fans could search for information as well.
Different clubs may invest their official Apps with different functions but generally the official App can still be seen as an official information platform with club news, videos, chatrooms, tickets and club merchandise, which could actually all be found on any social media. However, according to Ian Taylor’s comments on British fans in the 1950s, the real fans’ need was to interact with their football club and even take over control of their football club. As regards Chinese football fans, they want their teams to keep winning games with a strong desire to support and interact with their teams.
Opening Club Merchandise Stores to stimulate fans’ desire to consume
On the 27th November, Suning Sports flagship store opened in the Nanjing Olympic Center. Spread over 700 m² on two floors, it is the biggest football club merchandise store in China.
According to Jun Liu, the vice president of Suning Sport, besides offering fans a large area to purchase various items of club merchandise, the main function of this flagship store should be as a place for Jiangsu Suning football club to interact with its fans. In this way, Suning Sport will make use of it to organize various events such as Fans Meetings and a second Broadcast Room for matches so as to promote fans’ feelings for the football club.
Regarding club merchandise, significant numbers of fans are expected to purchase these, as they not only represent the support for the football club, but are also symbols so fans to show their allegiance and loyalty. At present, because most Chinese clubs have established their club merchandise stores on the internet, it may be hard for them to interact with fans and increase fans’ experience on merchandise.
Although Chinese football clubs have strong financial muscle to promote their competitive abilities, the intention to serve football fans may not only bring football clubs huge financial benefits, but also should be a good way to increase fans loyalty and sense of belonging.
Proofread by Sean O Diobhilin