Center for Sports & Management

The Quest for the Chinese football consumer

The Chinese government is pushing the country to become a powerhouse in football. Their ambitious plans include getting 50 million Chinese to play football by 2020, with the ultimate goal of winning the football World Cup in the next decades to come. China’s concerted football engagement fertilizes the development of domestic football consumers supporting both domestic and foreign clubs.

This is common sense. At the end of the day, it is decisive who wins over the Chinese football fan while competing with the well-advanced entertainment industry in China. The Chinese Super League and top European football clubs need to face their competitors from other sports and entertainment industries to take advantage of the current “gold rush” in football. And they need to beat them in the digital race!

Download the report here: Dancing With The Dragon

All the efforts in growing a fan base will in general promote the sport to become a national pastime in China. For a fan culture to grow and fuel, it is crucial to understand how and why the Chinese people consume football – on the pitch as well as in the digital sphere. Furthermore, it is important to identify inherent motivations and needs (e.g., for drama, escapism, or knowledge) that influence the decision to watch football and to better target the communication toward sport spectators. We decided to examine what a typical Chinese football consumer looks like. What are the motives to watch football? Which football stars and clubs are supported and why? What role do digital channels play for football consumption? How does a boom in eSports affect sport consumer behavior? What are commonalities and differences between the Chinese and more or less advanced football markets abroad?

Accordingly, the Center for Sports and Management (CSM) at WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management designed a representative survey across five different countries (China, Germany, USA, South Korea, and Japan) exploring individual spectator motives, characteristics of favorite players and teams, and sport (media) consumption behavior. The research study was conducted with the support of Nielsen Sports. Overall, 5,000 people participated in the online survey and face-to-face interviews (China). Their opinions are representative for a population of 1.899 billion people in Asia, Europe, and the USA. The survey results were discussed with China experts to derive recommendations for designing marketing and sales strategies tailored.

Prof. Sascha L. Schmidt