According to LaLiga, Spanish football’s showpiece event El Clasico, which has a potential television audience of 650 million people, has become one of the most watched club matches around the world.
At 8 pm Beijing time, when the Spanish national Derby between giants Real Madrid and Barcelona kicked off at Santiago Bernabeu, a group of enthusiastic Chinese fans watched the event broadcast live at Shanghai’s Huangpu World Expo Park.
To adapt to the schedule of Asian based fans, the kick-off on December 23 has been arranged for the first time at 13:00 Madrid time, which means 20:00 in Shanghai, 19:00 in Jakarta, Indonesia and 17:30 in New Delhi, India.
Ahead of the El Clasico, LaLiga Club, the first official fan club in China launched in 2016, held a press conference with the theme “It’s not football, It’s LaLiga”. An official announcement was made to unveil the Greenfield of Love, China’s first professional football-related TV series endorsed by LaLiga. In addition to this, the LaLiga Club Elite Training Program, an upgraded version of LaLiga Club Training started in September 2017, will expand from Shanghai and Beijing to Anhui Province.
How is the Chinese audience engaged by La Liga? What makes LaLiga football even more popular recently in the world’s most populous country?
With those questions in mind, Yutang Sports, as the Official Sports Business Media Partner of LaLiga in China, has had the chance to talk with LaLiga’s Greater China Managing Director Sergi Torrents and Steve Lau, the managing director of Activation Group.
A Focus on Asian markets
According to Nielsen Sports, last season’s first LaLiga Clasico generated more than US $42.5 million in media value for sponsors across platforms and screens. During this season, LaLiga highlights the Asian markets by making Real Madrid and Barcelona face off at a time that is more convenient for fans based in Asia. Without a doubt, the new schedule will bring LaLiga more Chinese fans, as well as potentially more favorable broadcast deals, sponsorship agreements and match day income.
Better yet, LaLiga’s first official fan club in China, LaLiga Club, was established in October 2016, as part of the partnership between LaLiga and Activation Group. “Our goal is to put China-based LaLiga fans together,” said Steve Lau, the managing director of Activation Group.
More importantly, LaLiga has also been striving to broadcast better content for their fans in the past year. “We have stadiums that have a very special look and feel. We invest strongly in production. We have special camera, we have spider camera…”, Sergi Torrents, LaLiga Greater China Managing Director, said in the interview, “this makes the best brands in the world prefer to be associated with LaLiga.”
The football club is another favorable condition for LaLiga’s commercial expansion in China because, on the one hand, the league can benefit from the worldwide popularity of big-market clubs like Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid. On the other hand, other LaLiga clubs have reached close ties with Chinese investors, against the background of a booming sports market in China. For example, China’s Rastar Group bought a stake in RCD Espanyol in 2015, Dalian Wanda Group purchased a 20% stake in Atletico Madrid in the same year while Chinese businessman Jiang Lizhang announced a controlling stake in Granada CF in the year 2016.
Talking about LaLiga’s expansion into China, Torrents told Yutang Sports: “LaLiga is a professional football association of 20 teams. We are promoting all 20 teams, not only Barcelona and Real Madrid but with more popularity and honor. Barcelona and Real Madrid usually are helping the rest of the teams in seizing their own markets.”
Embracing youth training
In the past three decades, Chinese children’s declining physical health has triggered widespread concern. Fortunately, a new generation of Chinese parents, many of them with a higher education background, start working hard to engage their children with more sports training programs, with the goal of bringing their children a healthy lifestyle.
In this regard, LaLiga has seen youth training as an important part of their Chinese expansion plan. Early in 2015, LaLiga established an official collaboration with the Ministry of Education of China. As of now, they have sent 90 football coaches to more than 100 Chinese schools, allowing over 150,000 Chinese students to receive professional training courses.
In 2017, the LaLiga Club launched a youth training program, LaLiga Club Training, aiming to provide sustainable and professional football education and training opportunities for Chinese youth football players. The program also introduces a sense of family in its activities. For example, during the May Day holiday, 300 children ages 4 to 15 accompanied by their parents, have received professional football training from Spanish coaches in Shanghai.
At present, the LaLiga Club Training program has made a presence in Shanghai and Beijing, while the upgraded LaLiga Club Elite Training Program is expected to expand into Anhui Province in the near future, giving Chinese youngsters access to football training as well as more career development opportunities. Hence, we can see that starting from family ties, parent-child relationships and children’s futures that LaLiga will make significant contributions to Chinese football youth training cause.
Adopting a sportainment strategy
Steve Lau also emphasized the importance of “sportainment” — the merging of sport and entertainment in Yutang interview. In other words, the participants of a football match are not necessarily football players, they can be viewers. “In fact, it’s not only about watching a match. It can be about a fans party like we will see tonight, it can be about our TV series, our youth training program, our experience center or other projects. All that matters is getting all of the LaLiga fans together.” Lau remarked.
At the news conference, Torrents also remarked: “We presented our finest Spanish El Clasico to Chinese football fans, media partners and VIPs in such extraordinary way. LaLiga has not only the most wonderful football games; it is also the symbol of passion, entertainment and new technology. That’s the real connotation of 'It’s not football, It’s LaLiga.'"
In fact, in early February 2016, the sportainment approaches have been tried on the LaLiga pitch, when Chinese singing contest program, Super Girl, displayed its logo on the shirtfront of RCD Espanyol in a game against Real Madrid. This news caused a public fever in the then Chinese football market.
Later in November 2017, Chinese television manufacturer and La Liga's regional sponsor in China, Konka, launched a Hip-hop and football-based MV, engaging more Chinese young consumers for both brands.
More recently, LaLiga unveiled a ‘China Dream, Football Dream’ themed TV series –“Greenfield of Love”, which is set to be broadcast through major TV and digital media outlets in late 2018.
The reason why LaLiga combines sports with entertainment is that the entertainment content consumers aged 14-35 are also the major age groups of LaLiga Club. Especially in China, consumers in those age groups are more likely to be influenced by a great lifestyle, a hot topic, a top event or a quality TV series.
Therefore, it is not hard to find that the sportainment strategy can not only provide many more options for young fans to consume but also raises the brand awareness of LaLiga in future commercial campaigns.
In addition to more La Liga matches kicking off at prime time (Beijing Time), the youth training program and sportainment strategy, LaLiga has also finalized a series of partnerships for its expansion in China.
For example, the Spanish league has empowered PPTV Sports with all media rights, including digital and new media, of LaLiga in mainland China, Taiwan and Macau from 2015-2020.
Proofread by William Logsdon