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Manchester United top club online in China

By Angus McNeice in London | China Daily UK | Updated: 2018-02-02 04:33

Manchester United was the most popular European soccer team on social media in China in 2017 and Lionel Messi overtook Cristiano Ronaldo as the most popular player, according to a new study.

Despite failing to capture a league title in five years, Manchester United is racing ahead of the competition on Chinese digital platforms, claiming more followers and interactions on Weibo and WeChat than any other European club.

In its seventh annual Red Card study, Shanghai-based sports marketing firm Mailman assessed several online performance indicators for European clubs in 2017. These included live-stream, website, app and e-commerce data, as well as engagement on social media platforms.

Manchester United now has 9.2 million Weibo follows — half a million more than in 2016 and a million more than second-placed Manchester City.

"We are honored to receive the Red Card award for the second consecutive year," said Phil Lynch, head of media at Manchester United. "China is one of Manchester United's most important markets and we have a long history of innovation and fan engagement in the region."

Chinese pop star and Manchester United fan Lu Han has contributed greatly to the club's online profile in China. Han regularly posts about the club on Weibo — one such entry generated a record 100 million comments.

The Red Card study found that Borussia Dortmund has adopted the most successful online streaming strategy out of European clubs in China. The club produced an eight-part series based in China and Germany that was streamed live by a combined 12 million viewers.

Messi eclipsed Real Madrid rival Ronaldo as the Europe-based player with the largest following on social media in China.

The Argentine relaunched his Chinese social media pages in May last year, accumulating 1 million more followers and generating 45 percent more interactions than Ronaldo. In 2016, Chinese telecommunications company Huawei appointed Messi as a global brand ambassador.

Germany's Bundesliga engaged with more fans in China than any other European league last year, and produced 60 percent more social media content than the Premier League and Spain's La Liga. Last year, the Bundesliga entered into a strategic partnership with major Chinese technology platform Baidu, greatly increasing the league's web presence in China.

Mailman found the vast majority of growth is still driven by top clubs. Last year, European clubs gained 6 million new social media followers in China. Half of these went to just five clubs — Manchester United, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Arsenal and Liverpool — and only 12 teams gained more than 100,000 new followers.

Mailman says that exploring emerging platforms will be key to tapping into new fan groups. Sports apps are growing fast in China — soccer-themed social media app Dongqiudi now has 2.7 million daily active users making it the most active online football community in the country. Manchester City struck a partnership deal with Dongqiudi last year, and the platform became Crystal Palace's shirt sleeve sponsor last July.

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