Team China is conquering the World Cup in the corporate form
Chinese corporations are splashing out huge sum of money to go on a record promotional blitz at this year’s World Cup not only to boost brand awareness but mostly importantly influence FIFA’s decision in the next decade and hopefully host a World Cup in China. 

China is a super power in Summer Olympics, the country has succeeded in consistently placing itself into the top 3 of the medal tally. But what makes its leaders and people scratch their heads is why China can’t pull off the same trick on the soccer pitch.

As an avid fan of football himself, President Xi once confessed that he had three World Cup dreams for China: to make into the World Cup finals, to host the World Cup and to be World Cup winners. It might be a not-too-distant dream for China to host the World Cup as the country has proven its ability to host mega sporting event with the success of 2008 Summer Olympics still fresh in memory. If China do host a World Cup, the Chinese team would, of course, qualify as hosts to compete in the finals. But the ultimate goal of winning a World Cup trophy would be rather inconceivable considering the fact no one has ever prevented a European or South American team from winning the World Cup.

Seizing on this cue and also to row behind the national effort to develop the game and attract the World Cup, Chinese corporations are splashing out huge sum of money to go on a record promotional blitz at this year’s World Cup that’s expected to draw 3.5 billion television viewers in more than 200 countries. According to Yicai.com, Chinese companies are spending $835 million to sponsor the global event, more than doubling what U.S. companies spent.
 
Opportunities converted from FIFA’s crisis
 
In 2015, a hydra-headed corruption case related to some 40 individuals and entities associated with FIFA broke out and forced the resignation of its longtime president Sepp Blatter. Russia, meanwhile, has been excoriated in the West for everything from allegedly poisoning a former spy and his daughter on foreign soil to meddling in the US elections. Fearing their association with the organization or Russia would expose them to reputational detraction, companies such as Emirates, Continental, Johnson & Johnson and Sony chose to drop out of their sponsorship.

Their withdrawal opens new sponsorship slots which presents an unprecedented opportunity for Chinese companies to lace up their boots to make substitute appearances and promote themselves to an estimated global audience of 3.5bn. From the perspective of Chinese companies, they have no burden of FIFA’s tainted legacy, no association with Sepp Blatter-era regime and are supporting a clean FIFA under Gianni Infantino who replaced Blatter in 2016, which means they are not subject to any potential jeopardy left by FIFA’s past scandal and they are offering a lifeline to the struggling organization to reform and improve itself.
 
Who are those Chinese corporations and what they are doing?
 
Wanda, as a global FIFA partner which is the highest level of sponsorship, has been especially visible at the Russian World Cup. The Chinese property conglomerate secured the rights to all FIFA competitions up until the 2030 World Cup. As a major sponsor, Wanda's logo will be seen throughout the tournament, in the form of advertising boards, stadium adverts and on television programs. It will also be able to use the official World Cup marks and have access to direct broadcast advertising and ambush marketing protection.

As a major producer of consumer electronics, Hisense has gained a lot of experience and seen strong brand growth by engaging in sports marketing for the last couple of years, having sponsored Euro 2016 and the 2017 Confederations Cup in addition to backing the 2018 World Cup as “the Official Television Supplier to the tournament”.

According to Hisense, the sponsorship of EURO 2016 helped the company register a 60 percent increase in television sales in Europe in the second quarter of 2016. It is expected that sponsorship of the World Cup will see Hisense brand reach over 200 countries and regions, greatly enhancing its international brand exposure.

Mengniu, China’s second biggest dairy firm, is reportedly spending a cool 2 billion RMB (310 million USD) on World Cup-related marketing events, some of which is going into the pockets of Argentinian football star Lionel Messi, who signed on as an “ambassador” for the brand. As part of its deal with FIFA, Mengniu has become the "Official drinkable yoghurt and pre-packaged ice cream of the FIFA World Cup and the Official milk and powdered milk of the FIFA World Cup for Greater China”. Their brand will also appear on all official match tickets, FIFA's digital channels and across LED boards in all the designated stadiums.

Vivo, a Chinse smartphone maker, has signed on for not just the 2018 tournament but the next one in Qatar to be its “Official Smartphone Supplier”. According to its CEO, through global sponsorship of the World Cup, the company hopes to add cosmopolitan, energetic and youthful veneer to its brand. 
 
How will spending big bucks on World Cup help Chinese brands?
 
China has successfully developed itself into a global manufacturing hub, nevertheless few of its brands have made it into the overseas market. Most overseas consumers especially those in the developed countries have rarely if not never heard of a Chinese brand, unlike Japan or South Korea whose economic rise is underpinned with world renowned brands.

For Chinese brands eager to tap into the overseas markets, FIFA offers a global-trotting and prestigious opportunity to promote their brands. Sponsoring the World Cup will raise awareness for Chinese brands among massive number of consumers, but that awareness won’t last unless Chinese brands manage to offer unique products that add unique value to consumers vis-à-vis competing products.

Another indirect effect may lie in the realm of soft power, China’s eye-catching appearance on this year’s World Cup will serve as a testimony to the special friendship with Russia. When FIFA and Russia are somehow boycotted by western powers, China wants to save the day and hereby expand its influence. It is President Xi’s dream to host a World Cup, obviously the big bucks Chinese companies spend to win over FIFA will help bring that dream much closer to reality.
 

 


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