Goals, drama and plenty of excitement have all been part of this year’s World Cup. But off the pitch, the boom in interest by Chinese fans and sponsors have also drawn notice.
CGTN’s Dan Williams reports.
It’s a melting pot of cultures as fans from around the world enjoy Russia 2018. Among them are a significant number of supporters from China.
More than 40,000 tickets were sold to Chinese supporters, which is a huge increase from the 7,400 sold to Chinese fans in 2014. That’s despite the country’s national team failing to qualify for the tournament.
However, it’s not just in ticket sales that China’s presence is being felt. Seven of the 19 corporate sponsors are Chinese. Top television maker Hisense, smartphone-maker Vivo and Chinese real estate and leisure conglomerate Dalian Wanda all have towering activations at World Cup venues. FIFA says the trend reflects the changing global market place.
“It’s companies were initially focusing on the domestic market. But now they understand or they’ve come to the point where they control the domestic market and they want to go abroad,” said FIFA Chief Commercial Officer Philippe Le Floc’h.
“There was a bit of a natural fit with the biggest sport on earth. The property has a global foot print. And it was easy for them to go abroad using the most popular sport on earth.”
Football sponsorship comes at a price, with each one worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Russia’s Lokomotiv Moscow also has a sponsorship deal with Vivo. The club’s Commercial Director Igor Smirnov believes the relationship is win-win.
“There is nothing more fitting than the fact that companies who want their products to reach customers all over the world choose football, with its mass appeal, as one of the most popular sports worldwide,” Smirnov said.
In 2015, a corruption scandal engulfed FIFA and saw dozens of football officials arrested or banned from football activity. It also led to a number of companies refusing to renew their sponsorship deals. That though opened the door for other companies to fill that void.
The huge increase in Chinese football supporters at this World Cup, along with those new sponsorship deals, underlines the boom in interest in the game in China. It also raises the prospect of a bid by China to host the tournament in future years.
“It’s a big country. It’s a sports country. They have hosted, winter and summer Olympics. They will host the winter Olympics soon. They would have hosted athletics world championship. I think it makes sense that China to be willing host the biggest sport event on earth which is a World Cup,” Le Floc’h said.
The joint bid of the U.S., Mexico and Canada recently won the hosting rights for the 2026 tournament. It means the next available World Cup is 2030.