The Bundesliga clubs travel increasingly to China for PR purposes. Therefore encounters with the fans are even more important than friendly matches.
Football marketing in China means first of all proximity. The Bundesliga clubs have understood that and are providing their fans in the Middle Kingdom with what most of them crave: stars to touch. This year VfL Wolfsburg led the way. They played their first match at first division club Changchun Yatai (2-0) in the north-east of the country on Wednesday, May 18. Schalke 04 and Borussia Dortmund will follow them to the People’s Republic in July. A few weeks ago 1.FC Cologne favoured a summer premiere in China, and Borussia Moenchengladbach have also agreed to travel there by 2018.
The Bundesliga are now catching up with what they neglected at the beginning of the century, by becoming a frequent presence in the People’s Republic. British clubs in particular are leading in this area and thanks to their higher profile they profit from longer broadcasting time on the local TV channels. That in turn can pay off in rising sales of merchandise, and higher TV revenues, but also in the form of lucrative advertising contracts with Chinese companies.
The tyre manufacturer Linglong has been one of VfL Wolfsburg’s sponsors for some years. The extension of the contract was sealed and celebrated with a ceremony in the ballroom of the team hotel. A few VfL stars formed a guard of honour. “It’s important for us because Linglong is taking this partnership very seriously”, managing director Thomas Roettgermann told the club-owned TV channel of the “Wolves”. Linglong resumes many tasks within China thus improving Wolfsburg’s image. The company also heavily pushed the match against Changchun in the city.
Concerning direct marketing VfL Wolfsburg made a clever move by contracting Chinese international Zhang Xizhe 18 months ago. Though Zhang failed to achieve a breakthrough at VfL – he returned to China after six months – the transfer further stimulated popularity. Nowadays 80,000 Chinese follow news from the club on the micro-blog platform Weibo. And the video platform Youku, on which players and officials explicitly address the fans from the Far East, particularly during their China travels, is increasingly clicked on.
It is the Bundesliga club’s fourth tour to China after 2000, 2012 and 2014. A youth team also visited and played friendly matches, as did the VfL’s football academy. This dedication is paying off. There is enthusiasm wherever the entourage appears these days. On landing in Changchun, where the Volkswagen Concern has parts of its car fleet assembled, 100 fans greeted the team at the airport, wearing club shirts and equipped with flags, and armed with felt-pens for autographs and mobile phones for photos. The first practice on Tuesday was public and barrier-free. After the session’s conclusion the VfL players mingled with fans until everybody was happy.
Schalke 04 and Borussia Dortmund will also endeavour to leave behind happy fans. Schalke have to make up after cancelling their China travels last year. Two friendlies against Asian Champions/League champions Guangzhou Evergrande and their local rivals Guangzhou R&F are occasions aimed at extending the presence of the Gelsenkirchen club. An agency in Shanghai will represent the club’s interests on site in the future. Schalke’s head marketer Alexander Jobst wants to arouse the interest of the media, the fans and potential sponsors by selective activities. There are no details yet. The scheduling in the first week of July is a disadvantage. Some Schalke internationals could still be involved at the European Championship or on holiday.
Guangzhou, the capital of the province of Canton in South China, is no easy terrain for the Bundesliga. Public television broadcast top matches nationwide in Mandarin, while Cantonese is traditionally spoken in Canton. Matches broadcast on regional TV with local commentary often lack the top teams.
The BVB pass up friendly matches against local first division clubs and instead will meet the European elite in China. The years under Juergen Klopp have turned the club into one of the favourites among the Chinese fans. Manchester United are the opponents in Shanghai on July 22, six days later they’ll meet Manchester City in Shenzhen. In order to promote the international tournament together with the organisers, former Dortmund striker Karl-Heinz Riedle recently travelled to China.
The urgency of a presence in China has also caught the Rhineland. For several days now Borussia Moenchengladbach have boasted a financially strong Chinese partner in ZTE from the mobile telephone system industry, so opening the door to the People’s Republic for the club. “We want to get into the Chinese market and for that we need strategic assistance”, said managing director Stephan Schippers at the contract signing. The first strategic decision within the partnership is that the “Colts” will play a few friendlies as soon as possible.
With 1. FC Cologne too, it is just a question of time before the club unlocks the door to the People’s Republic. They want to negotiate a few contacts in addition to football and have started talks. The “Billy Goats” have also Japan in their sight. Since the signing of Japanese international Yuya Osako the fans in the country of the Rising Sun have intently followed events at the Cathedral City. A promotion tour could generate new growth in Japan too.