Social Media Sport Marketing in China - Victor Choy, Senior VP HaiQiu Sports Share PDF Print E-mail
Expert Columns

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In line with the rest of the world, social media in China has exploded; what sets our market apart is that the dominant platforms are largely unknown outside the country. We are now witnessing social media growth alongside unprecedented investment and expansion in sport in China, especially across domestic sports leagues. This is a heady combination and makes China a very attractive proposition for the wider sports business world.

One testament to this is the range of marquee signings of players from the West to the Chinese Super League (CSL); Oscar and Axel Witsel moved when it was felt they still had a lot to offer in Europe and players, such as Messi and Ronaldo, who cannot make the physical relocation are still undertaking extensive ‘personal brand’ work in the region.

This activity isn’t just prevalent in football, basketball is a hugely popular sport which would account for the active social media presence of athletes such as Kobe Bryant. Following his retirement last year, the #ThankYouKobe and #Kobe hashtags generated 370 million impressions on Chinese social media.

So what does the Chinese social media landscape actually look like? Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube simply don’t exist in mainland China, our alternatives are Sina Weibo, a micro-blogging website; WeChat, an instant messaging app; and MiaoHi, a sports influencer video platform we at HQ Sports developed last year. Just because these platforms aren’t household names in the west – yet - it doesn’t mean that their reach isn’t immensely powerful; Ronaldo’s deal with mobile phone manufacturer, Nubia, was rumoured to be in the region of $400million, a figure not justified solely from its social media returns but nevertheless these were fundamental to the deal’s activation.

When it comes to hard numbers, just how extensive is Chinese social media? Sina Weibo has been compared to Twitter in the West but their respective expansion rates perhaps decry that. Sina Weibo’s monthly active users (MAU) grew from 71.5 million to 261 million between 2012 and 2016, with year-on-year growth of 32% between Q1 2015 and Q1 2016. In the same period, Twitter grew by 2.6%. Meanwhile, WeChat exceeded 800 million MAU in 2016, more than the entire population of Europe.

But these platforms aren’t just settling for domestic success. Just recently, Alibaba (owned by China’s second richest man Jack Ma) became the first new top-level sponsor of the IOC since Bridgestone in 2014 in a deal estimated to be worth $800m over its 12-year duration (Bloomberg). Not only that but is the first Chinese company to become a top-level partner.

As these platforms grow (both nationally and internationally) and new players enter the market, it is reasonable to expect exponential growth in the power of social influencers; we at HQ Sports are excited to be at the front of this in China and are helping athletes, players and agents from across the globe expand their reach in China.

Indeed, CMC, which reportedly paid $1.3bn (£1.1bn) to buy the Chinese Super League television rights last year, has led a multi-million dollar investment into HQ Sports alongside Tencent (whose products include WeChat and QQ). Both investors recognising the strength of HQ Sports’ portfolio geared towards reaching and engaging a nation of burgeoning sports fans.

At a fan level, there is a clear appetite for ‘Star’ content in China, yet only a handful of international sports personalities have developed a presence here. The opportunity is vast for athletes of all sporting disciplines, and there is no clearer evidence of this than the rapid rise of our own short form video platform MiaoHi.

In just 3 months, over 2,000 China-based influencers have opened accounts on MiaoHi, including professional footballers, athletes and Olympic champions, veteran sports media professionals, KOLs from new-age sports, professional sports clubs and their fan associations. Their presence, constant sharing of both personal and professional content and general acceptance of this new form of fan engagement has helped MiaoHi achieved over 1m users in a matter of months.

And so, while the recent footballer cap change which limits the number of foreign players to three per team may reduce the number of the world’s best footballers plying their trade in our region, Chinese social media platforms remain open to stars of all sports and nationalities. President Xi Jinping’s 10-year plan to double the size of Chinese sports economy looks to be well on course so it is the clever agents or athletes who now start to look east.

 
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