Academic Digital

[PROJECT] Working with Manchester City Football Club to understand ‘Chinese Audiences’

There has recently been a piece in The Conversation looking at the place of Chinese Football Clubs: 

Four years ago, President Xi Jinping had just proclaimed his desire for China to become one of the world’s leading football nations. This sparked a transfer frenzy among Chinese Super League clubs, resulting in players from Europe and South America moving there for big transfer fees and large wage packets.

But the greed of overseas players allied to the ill-judged speculation of Chinese investors was of considerable concern to the government in Beijing. Not only was there a sense that foreigners were taking advantage of China, more generally there were worries about overseas currency flows and troubling economic data that showed the country’s growth was slowing.

Football is not really my thing, but in 2016, I undertook focus groups for Manchester City Football Club (on behalf of Manchester Metropolitan University), in order to try and understand sentiment towards non-Chinese brands (such as MCFC), understand the biggest sports brands in China, any appetite for Premier League football, a consideration of current social media content developed by the MCFC comms team, and what might encourage them to get involved in the future. The club had not long had a huge amount of Chinese investment, and was about to undergo a tour in China.

Football manages to maintain the aura that it is a local sport, and that it’s great to support your ‘home team’, but it is actually a huge industry, with global reach, and therefore it’s marketing efforts can potentially both connect with avid new supporters, and keep others aligned and investing in the team, its players, its grounds, etc.

With access to many Chinese students across Manchester’s universities, after conversations with the MCFC communications team to understand what was required, I developed 8 questions to be asked across 2 x 2 hour focus groups, before turning that into a short report and 1 hour presentation back to the comms team.

Obviously the responses are for MCFC, but generic outcomes that struck me, is that Chinese culture approves of excellence/success, expects to work hard/learn fast, and if people put their mind to something, can be expected to be rewarded well through excellence – and – particularly relevant to this story – they were keen to have Chinese players to support (either in Chinese or international teams – Sun Jihai was referred to). As ever, people thought that they weren’t influenced by advertising, although other answers demonstrated that they were (why it’s important to pick the questions carefully). A lot of interesting feedback on the pre-existing social media content, and what fans would like to see (including more insights into players lives), the importance of WeChat as a platform, the importance of visual content – and total lack of desire for an app if the website was well structured (something that people often forget in their keenness to have an app!).

I did ask the team I worked with if it was OK to post some generic thoughts on this project (they said it was), but had never quite got around to it til this story jogged my memory.