The 2018 World Cup in Russia seems to have already been won by a nation that’s not even participating: China.
Of the 21 FIFA partners and sponsors in Brazil in 2014, one was Chinese. Meanwhile, of the 16 partners in Russia, seven are Chinese.
Why is China, a nation that has only ever participated in one World Cup (2002), investing so heavily in a tournament that it is not a part of? For that, we have to go back to 2014 when China’s Premier, Xi Jinping, came up with the vision to play in, host and win the World Cup by 2050. This started a slew of investments by private businesses in local teams as well as European powerhouses in an effort to win favor with the Premier.
Wanda Group – owned by the richest man in China, Wang Jianlin – bought a stake in Atletico Madrid (which it sold earlier this year), and CMC did the same with Manchester City. Other European clubs were bought outright by Chinese companies such as AC Milan (Li Yonghong), Inter Milan (Suning Corp) and a host of West Midlands clubs, including Aston Villa (Tony Xia – Recon Group).
Similarly, local teams started receiving heavy investment, with elite players and coaches making their way to China. Players in their prime started going to play for football clubs in China. Carlos Tevez became the highest-paid player in the world when he joined Shanghai Shenhua FC. He was followed by Chelsea and Brazil’s Oscar and other top players. Top coaches such as Felipe Scolari to Guangzhou Evergrande (Brazil’s World Cup-winning coach), Marcelo Lippi to China National team (Italy’s World Cup-winning coach), Andreas Villas Boas to Shanghai SIPG (Tottenham) and more followed. Whether this has worked towards improving the quality of football and achieving Premier Xi’s goal is a story for another day, but it certainly put China on the football map.
Football World Cup 2018
Chinese brands now realize the power of football in reaching and engaging with the consumer, be it catering to the huge domestic market or expanding internationally. The FIFA World Cup is one of the most-watched events globally, and the Russian edition, which started last week, is expected to have 3.2 billion viewers. It is the premier sports property for brands that are — or want to become — global powerhouses.