In China, sports have become a significant portion in lives of majority of the males and of increasing number of females. Chinese’s great passion for sports could be from China’s great track record in the Olympics.

China owns the world-championship national teams in the field of Table Tennis, Diving, Badminton, Weightlifting, Gymnastics, Speed Skating, Shooting, etc. Their superstars such as Liu Xiang (Men’s 110-metre Hurdle Race) and Yao Ming (Basketball) are seem as national heroes.

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Interestingly, as one of the most popular item among Chinese fans, China’s national soccer team has been a disappointment for decades. For year the Team China strived to be qualified for the World Cup, it only made it one in 2002. This year, Team China was disqualified from the Russian 2018 World Cup, but the World will still witness Chinese brands teaming up to shine in the fields instead of Team China.

A Tournament Without Team China

The China national team was founded in 1924 and joined FIFA in 1931–1958, and then from 1979. China first entered World Cup qualification in 1957 in an attempt to qualify for the 1958 FIFA World Cup. China failed
to score a goal in their maiden World Cup appearance in 2002. However, qualifying for the tournament has been considered the greatest accomplishment in China’s football history. As football is widely followed in China, triumph by the national team is a source of national pride. Around 300 million people tuned into broadcasts of China’s World Cup 2002 matches, with 170 million new television sets being purchased by citizens in order to watch their nation’s first World Cup appearance. The team is colloquially referred to as Team China, the National Team or Guozu.

Although China failed to reach the 2018 FIFA World Cup finals in Russia, the failure of the national team doesn’t seem to have affected Chinese fans’ passion for football’s blue riband tournament.

According to FIFA statistics, Chinese football fans have purchased more than 40,000 tickets for the World Cup, ranking ninth among all countries and regions. This means there will altogether be about 100,000 Chinese fans in Russia, factoring in tickets allotted to Chinese companies as FIFA partners, World Cup sponsors and regional supporters.

This compares favorably with the 2002 World Cup, when the Chinese team qualified for the World Cup finals for the first and only time. That year, only around 50,000 Chinese fans turned up in Japan and South Korea to cheer on their heroes. At the two most recent World Cups in 2010 and 2014, fewer than 10,000 Chinese fans attended.

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Tang Bin, a football superfan from China’s southwestern city of Chengdu, plans on traveling to Russia and back to China every weekend during the World Cup.

“I cannot leave China for long enough to watch all the matches at the World Cup in Russia, but I also do not want to miss the games of my favorite teams – Spain and Germany. By my reckoning, the total cost will be around 50,000 RMB (8,000 US dollars), which I feel is worth the expense,” Tang said.

The World Cup has also pushed up levels of consumption in China, with many fans stocking up on snacks and supplies to munch on while watching the games, many of which will go on long into the night in China. Chinese e-commerce platform T-mall is said to have 100,000 tons of beer in stock, as much as ten times more than during the 2014 World Cup.

Chinese fans watching games at home started storing food and drinks on May, when 1.7 million packages of sunflower seeds, a favored snack for Chinese, and 18 million bottles of beer were sold on T-mall, a big surge than on April.

In addition to football fans heading to Russia, the World Cup seems to have inspired many Chinese tourists to visit the country for non-footballing reasons. A recent survey conducted by Ctrip, China’s leading flight and hotel booking platform, showed that bookings for flights to Moscow, St. Petersburg and other major cities in Russia have increased by 50 percent, with the number of tour groups to Russia rising by more than 35 percent. It’s estimated about a total of 180,000 Chinese will visit Russia during the month-long tournament, accounting for more than ten percent of the expected 1.5 million foreign visitors from worldwide.

Shanghai and Beijing have provided the largest number of visitors to Russia during the World Cup, with Chengdu coming in third.

Contrary to former World Cups in Brazil and Africa, Russia World Cup has political and geographical attractiveness to Chinese fans. And as the income grow significantly for ordinary Chinese, they are willing and affordable to engage with the sport in a closer way.

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Chinese Businesses Go Ahead Despite of Controversies

Russia’s first world cup kicked off yesterday. China’s advertisers are dominating the tournament.

Despite not having a Chinese team at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Chinese advertisers have not shied away from the tournament that will attract 3.5 billion television viewers from more than 200 countries.

Dalian Wanda Group Co are the tournament sponsors whilst electronics giant Hisense, smartphone manufacturer Vivo, and China Mengniu Dairy will all take a big piece in the business.

These sponsorships do not include advertising related to the tournament, which is estimated at an additional $835 million by Chinese companies.

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According to Zenith, Chinese brands will account for over one third of the estimated $2.4 billion in additional advertising spending.

“What really struck me is how big a deal the World Cup is in China this year,” said Jonathan Barnard, an executive at Zenith. “It seems to be a new phenomenon. Brands are scrambling to create an association between themselves and sports, in this case football in particular. The associations don’t exist yet.”

Chinese Sports Media has deals with Portugal’s national team to promote a cosmetics brand as well as with Argentina’s team for an online peer-to-peer lending platform.

“This World Cup is the biggest and most important marketing window for Chinese brands,” said Zhao Jun, president of China Sports Media. “More and more brands have come to realize the benefits of sports advertising.” Simon Chadwick, professor of sports enterprise at Salford University, said: “As FIFA is now seen as a toxic brand that many western companies do not want to be associated with, China is seizing the opportunity.

“The Chinese view of ethics and governance is different to western standards, and it is very easy for Chinese companies to say, ‘FIFA has moved on’. And, that they were not backing the Sepp Blatter-era regime and are supporting a clean FIFA under Gianni Infantino, (who replaced Blatter in 2016).”

Chadwick said the lack of demand from western companies to sponsor the World Cup in Russia, and Qatar in 2022, has left FIFA “desperate for cash, and Chinese companies spotted the opportunity for a relatively cost-effective way to get their brands in front of billions of global eyeballs”.

Wang, the fifth-richest person in China with a $23.4bn (£17.6bn) fortune, according to Bloomberg’s billionaires index, said: “Two or three years ago, Chinese and Asian companies probably wouldn’t even have had a chance to sponsor FIFA even if we wanted to. But because some western companies dropped out, we got the opportunity.”

Wanda, which owns the British luxury yacht builder Sunseeker, the Hollywood studio that made Godzilla and The Hangover as well as a stake in Atlético Madrid, has signed up as a FIFA partner – the highest level of sponsorship – alongside Coca-Cola, Visa, Adidas and Russia’s Gazprom for the next four World Cups.

“If more Chinese brother companies become FIFA sponsors like Wanda, we will join forces to advance the interests of China soccer,” Wang said.

Chadwick said the Chinese companies’ FIFA sponsorship deals were encouraged by President Xi Jinping to help fuel his dream of turning China into a “world football superpower” by 2050.

“China wants to host the World Cup, China wants to win the World Cup, and I speculate they also want a Chinese president of FIFA,” Chadwick said. “Rescuing FIFA financially with these sponsorship deals will help the chances of achieving those dreams immeasurably.”

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After TV rights sales, sponsorship is FIFA’s biggest income stream and was worth $1.6bn for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The loss of sponsors and the struggle to sign deals after the bribery scandal dragged FIFA to a $369m loss in 2016.
Jon Tibbs, founder and chair of JTA, a sports reputation management company, said it was sensible of Chinese firms to use football for promotion. “As the traditional western brands get cold feet and face consumers’ pressure, it is inevitable that FIFA turns to new markets,” he said.

“For Chinese brands seeking new markets it is relatively very easy and prestigious to partner with FIFA. It is widely believed that China will bid for the 2030 World Cup, obviously if there are a large number of Chinese sponsors helping to prop up FIFA that is a very good starting point.”

Sam Burne James, news editor of PR Week, said FIFA was “certainly seen as toxic” by many British brands, and Boris Johnson’s comparison of the World Cup under Vladimir Putin to the 1936 Olympic Games under Hitler had not helped.

“If you look at few tournaments back, most of the brands would be recognisable to western audiences, now several of them are unheard of – and that shift will continue,” he said.

“Chinese companies get two things from sponsoring the World Cup. The first is access to western audiences that they will sooner or later be trying to win over, as their companies expand. The other is a cosmopolitan veneer to their brands, which they hope will resonate with their sizeable domestic markets.”

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Vivo, founded nine years ago, paid €400m (£350m) for a six-year deal that included Russia 2018, Qatar 2022 and the Confederations Cup. It has signed up the Brazilian footballer José Roberto Gama de Oliveira – better known as Bebeto – and Holland’s Ruud Gullit to front its World Cup campaign – and its advertising campaign video, launched this week, sums up the opportunity the Chinese corporate sponsors are trying to grab: “The world is watching,” Vivo said. “This is our moment.”

Chinese TVC Making a Blast

Football fans heading to the World Cup this summer are going to get an education in Chinese TVs, mobile phones, electric scooters and Mongolian dairy products.

As western companies, including Sony, Johnson & Johnson and BP’s Castrol, have pulled out of sponsoring the tournament after the FIFA bribery and corruption scandal, Chinese firms have secured an unprecedented presence at Russia 2018.

When Russia kicks off against Saudi Arabia in the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow on 14 June, fans will be treated to a seven-minute advertisement for Mengniu Group’s inner Mongolian milk and drinkable yoghurt.

The commercial will be aired during each of the 64 games in the tournament. Spectators fancying an ice-cream will have to pick from unfamiliar names such as Mood for Green, Ice+ or Suibian SuiXinGuo, after Mengniu secured exclusive rights to sell sweet treats including yoghurt drinks in the stadiums.

“They are very eye-catching, especially Dalian Wanda, one of seven FIFA’s partners. I feel very proud,” said Wang Lei, a Chinese fan from Shandong Province, after he paid a visit to Luzhniki Stadium on 14 June.

There are even more Chinese elements at this year’s tournament besides the above four names like China-made mascots and souvenirs. Other brands include four regional supporters of 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia for Asia, such as the electric scooter company Yadea; LUCI, a technology and entertainment experience company specializing in virtual reality; and DIKING, leading brand in men’s business attire in China.

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After 40 years’ reform and opening-up, Chinese companies are eager to display their brands to the world in an effort to get globalized. Sports marketing proves surely a quick way for regional brands eying globalization.

The dominant presence of Chinese firms at FIFA World Cup is a sign of football’s growing influence in China, as the world most populous nation have put up a goal to be a world football superpower by 2050, and qualify for the World Cup, host the World Cup and win the World Cup finally.

Content Edited from The Guardian, Wikipedia, Xinhuanet.com