Buying into British football clubs has proved effective for Chinese brands’ credibility and awareness efforts, claims Jon Stainer, UK & Ireland managing director at marketing consultancy Nielsen Sports.
He notes Huawei’s investments in European clubs such as Arsenal, Paris Saint-Germain and AC Milan, as well as the Wanda Group, a Chinese property developer and cinema operator, which in March acquired sponsorship rights to all FIFA competitions until 2030.
“The traditional industry in China was manufacturing, but as production declines Chinese businesses are getting more involved in marketing services worldwide,” Stainer explains. “Football is a great marketing services platform and the Premier League has a strong resonance back in China.”
West Bromwich Albion, Aston Villa and Wolverhampton Wanderers are the most recent clubs to attract Chinese owners. It was the heritage and authenticity of Aston Villa that appealed to Dr Tony Xia, the owner of Chinese logistics and supply chain firm the Recon Group, which bought the Championship club in June for £76m.
“The fact that Prince William, David Cameron and Tom Hanks are fans added to the x-factor about the club,” says Aston Villa chief executive, Keith Wyness, who believes Chinese ownership gives the club a renewed sense of energy.
“We have the ambition to take [Aston Villa] global and take it to one of the biggest football markets in the world – China – where we are already the 14th most recognised club.
“We’re looking at adding clubs in countries like India, the US, Australia, France and Spain. This will help us attract players. We’ve looked at the Manchester City model [in which City Football Group also owns New York City FC and Melbourne City FC, and co-owns Yokohama F Marinos] and we want to do it differently and slightly better.”
Wyness reports a “fantastic” fan reaction to Dr Xia, which is important to create an affinity between the supporters and the Chinese owner. This bond is crucial as research by Nielsen Sports suggests consumers are more loyal to brands that partner with their club and more likely to purchase from them as a result.