Chinese brands kick off at World Cup

opinion July 09, 2018 01:00

By Suwatchai Songwanich
CEO, Bangkok Bank (China)

Chinese firms have seized the opportunity to use the Fifa World Cup in Russia as a springboard for marketing their brands to hundreds of thousands of football fans attending the matches and millions of people watching the tournament on TV around the world.

They’re stepping into the space left by Western brands who have boycotted the world’s second most watched sporting event (after the Olympics) due to widespread allegations of corruption involved in Russia winning its bid to host the event. As a result, fans are being flooded with ads and marketing promotions for a wide range of Chinese products, from smartphones to Mongolian yoghurt drinks.

Some people may take a dim view of Chinese companies filling a gap left by other brands who are taking a stand against corruption. However, many Chinese companies have a different perspective – some believe that Fifa has moved on from the widespread bribery and corruption that became synonymous with Sepp Blatter’s presidency from 1998 to 2015. The organisation now has a cleaner image, so why shouldn’t they use the World Cup to promote their businesses?

They would have also probably found it too difficult to pass up a global brand-building opportunity, at what were likely much lower rates than normal, as Fifa scrambled to fill the revenue void left by traditional sponsors.

Interestingly, while fans attending games in Russia are being flooded with adverts and videos for Chinese products and are buying soft-drinks and ice-creams from Chinese brands with exclusive rights to sell snacks at the matches, they haven’t been watching China play, as the national team failed to qualify for the tournament. In fact, they’ve only once qualified for the World Cup, in 2002.

There may also be another, longer game in play. President Xi Jinping last year told Fifa he would love China to host the games, with 2034 tabled as a possible year. Demonstrating the support from home-grown sponsors will be a crucial element of any country’s successful bid. Football is already big business in China, which has twice hosted the Women’s World Cup and has plans to build 50,000 youth football academies by 2025.

The World Cup in Russia is also providing an opportunity for China to show off its fan base – some 37,000 tickets have been sold to Chinese fans, and travel agents say more than 100,000 are visiting Russia during the month-long event.

Imagine how much higher the turnout would be if the national team was stepping out on to the field.

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