Euro 2020 Alipay sponsor
24 June 2021
7 July 2021

China covers an important role in the world football scene as the main sponsors of the Euro 2020 demonstrated. Let's find out what are the opportunities for Western brands in the Eastern market.


Today no one is surprised anymore when teams with long traditions and very high level (like Inter F.C), are acquired by Chinese entrepreneurs who bring a large amount of money, or even when for football events of global importance, Chinese brands and products are among the main partners and sponsors of the events. An example is the case of Alipay, the company of the famous entrepreneur Jack Ma, which spent millions of euros to become one of the main brands of the European 2020 competition.

Footballers in China

Another point to take into account refers to the various players and coaches who now live in China, after having accepted millionaire salaries from Chinese clubs.


What are the economic opportunities that China offers to the Western world?

growth in china

ccording to UEFA, Chinese investors were in 2015 largest investors in foreign clubs. Chinese investors already bought minority stakes in Manchester City and Atletico Madrid and majority stakes in Aston Villa and West Bromwich Albion. But in Premier League there is so much competition among billionaire owners that stepping away from it and “buying” both clubs that participate in one of the biggest football derbies in a league that is on a rise, might prove to be the correct move.

Premier Legue China

Both Inter and Milan, clubs with great history and tradition, already had massive global fanbases. Their fanbases in China will only grow, since clubs are now Chinese owned and their marketers will specifically target Chinese market.

Inter Milan China


Before the Rossoneri Sport Investment Lux bought AC Milan, the Italian Giants were already among the top 5 most supported football clubs in China (among Manchester United, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern München).


Therefore, it doesn’t seem like an overestimation to expect that agreement with Chinese retail chains can help AC Milan’s official merchandise reach over 100 million football fans.


Short term goal is to sell AC Milan official merchandise to 5% of these 100 million fans and generate an income of about €250M, while a long-term goal is to double those sales and reach the Real Madrid’s and Barcelona’s heights of popularity in China.


How famous are Western clubs and footballers on Chinese social networks?


15.7 million followers who follow Cristiano Ronaldo on Chinese social platforms, in particular Kuaishou (competitor of Tik Tok), Douyin (the Chinese version of the social network Tik Tok), and Wueibo.


From 2018 to today, the total number of followers who follow the teams on Douyin has gone from 2.5 to 19.2 million. And if we talk about Weibo, the numbers are really impressive: from 52 million in 2017 to 154 in 2020

Football brands in China

At the top of the ranking of the most followed teams we have Barcelona followed by other super teams such as Bayern, Real Madrid, Manchester etc.



As for the leagues, however, the most popular league is undoubtedly the English one, the Premier League followed by La Liga and Bundesliga.


The Italian Serie A has already established a digital presence (it was only launched in December 2020), so there are a lot of opportunities for improvement and at the moment, the most influential teams are Inter and Milan.


Opportunities of growth in the Chinese market

Opportunity in China

According to the Statista's research, the market size related to football in China is currently 22 billion yuan (around three billion euros). The same source tells us that it was 12.5 billion in 2018 and will likely reach 67.35 in 2025.


The main sources of income for these clubs are tickets sold, merchandising and sponsorships. The pandemic has drastically changed the approach of these clubs to the audience, taking away one of the main sources of revenue such as ticketing.


How relevant is merchandising for football brands?

Merchandise business

Reporting some official numbers, it appears that Juventus in the first year after the purchase of Cristiano Ronaldo, has sold 1,315,000 shirts while Manchester United (leader in the market), an impressive 4,950,000.


Not just football, in fact, one of the most famous brands in the world for merchandising sales is Harley Davidson, which bills more through the sales of accessories than with the bikes themselves

Harley Davidson

Someone will object that these speeches are relevant only for those teams that have global media visibility, giants who can afford to invest in the long term and able to sign the superstars of globalized football, however in reality this was true up to a few years ago.


Today a presence on social networks, especially if combined with a valid e-commerce platform and an accurate and effective marketing strategy, can create a very interesting development element even for those football teams considered "minor ones". The main motivation lies in the amount of investment that a brand must make on a social level, in fact today the opening and management of social profiles in China is much more advantageous and profitable against the expense of the usual TV and magazines ads.


Let's not forget that in China, when we talk about niches, we mean a few million potential users and therefore consumers. Not that bad!



Luigi Pelissero & Matteo Buchta