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Manchester United most influential soccer club online in China, survey shows

By Angus McNeice in London | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2017-02-23 23:42

Manchester United most influential soccer club online in China, survey shows

A photo grab of the official Weibo account of Manchester United shows the club has more than 8.8 million fans. 

Despite falling from its perch at the top of English and European soccer in recent years, Manchester United is racing ahead of the competition off the pitch, being rated the most influential European club in China.

The 20-time title winner recorded the highest number of followers across combined social media and live-stream platforms in China, according to a new report from Chinese sports marketing firm Mailman.

In its sixth annual Red Card study, conducted between Sept 1, 2016 and Jan 31, 2017, Mailman assessed several online performance indicators for European clubs, including live-stream, website, app and ecommerce data, as well as engagement on Chinese social media platforms Weibo and WeChat.

"We saw a shift in strategy for the world’s best, with many top teams now recognizing China as priority number one outside their domestic markets," said Andrew Collins, CEO of Mailman. "Both Manchester clubs and Borussia Dortmund saw benefits after their China summer tour, and iconic clubs, such as Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal, demonstrated their innovation around live-streaming."

Manchester United is the most followed club on Weibo with 8.8 million fans, while Bayern Munich is the most engaged team on the microblogging site. Both clubs' Weibo strategies included locally created stories that used Chinese culture to develop links between fans and clubs, as well as frequent video content.

The report found that, while there was a 50 percent increase in the number of European teams on Weibo, clubs have been slower to take up WeChat, with fewer than half having official accounts. Manchester United has the largest active fan base on WeChat with 700,000 monthly reads.

Jamie Reigle, commercial director at Manchester United, said: "Recent changes in the Chinese digital landscape have enabled a revolution in how we connect and communicate with our fans in the country."

In early 2016, Chinese digital sports media platform Sina Sports secured exclusive rights to broadcast the club’s 24-hour MUTV channel in a multi-year deal.

Live-streaming grew significantly in the Chinese sports market in 2016, with 300 million users accessing more than 200 live-stream platforms. Despite this, fewer than one quarter of European clubs have streamed live online in China. Borussia Dortmund and Tottenham Hotspur were identified as the teams that produced the most successful live-stream content in the country.

In terms of leagues, Germany's Bundesliga has the most comprehensive online presence in China, including live-stream content and a Chinese language website, while the Premier League and La Liga ranked second and third respectively in online performance. Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo was found to be the most influential player online in China, with 11.2 million followers on Weibo and 10 times more engagement than any other player. The four-time FIFA Ballon d'Or winner made headlines last year when a study found he had more followers on social media than any other athlete in the world.

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