Cristiano Ronaldo effect sees Juventus popularity surge in China

The Portuguese star has caused a shift in who Asian fans support. (AFP)
Updated 05 February 2019
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Cristiano Ronaldo effect sees Juventus popularity surge in China

  • Juventus added 308,000 followers across the Twitter-like Weibo when they signed Ronaldo.
  • Last year the Portuguese superstar also became a brand ambassador for Chinese automaker Wey

LONDON: Cristiano Ronaldo’s move from Real Madrid has seen Juventus’s popularity rocket in China, up nearly 70 percent by one measure, as top European clubs vie for supremacy in the Asian country.

The Portuguese forward has made his presence felt on the pitch, netting 17 goals in 22 Serie A games to put Juventus well on course to retain their Italian league title.

Ronaldo, who cost Juventus about 110 million euros last summer, was at it again at the weekend, scoring twice before the Turin side were held 3-3 at home by Parma.

Off the pitch, the Portuguese — who turned 34 on Tuesday — has made a similarly emphatic impact in China, the world’s second-biggest economy and home to a growing number of football supporters.

In the week of Ronaldo’s transfer in July last year, Juventus added 308,000 followers across the Twitter-like Weibo, social media and messaging app WeChat, and video app Douyin (known elsewhere as TikTok), the Italian club said.

That popularity has held, Juventus say, its number of followers on Weibo jumping 68.5 percent between July and December last year — a surge in interest that appears undiminished by a police investigation into the star launched last year.

Juventus declined to comment on an allegation of rape levelled at Ronaldo, who vehemently denies the claim made by a woman in the United States.

ICON MARKET

More fans ultimately means more money, and suddenly Ronaldo’s transfer fee does not look so extortionate.

Experts call China an “icon market” because its football fans tend to support an individual rather than a team.

So when Ronaldo moved clubs, thousands of Chinese fans went with him in the digital world.

“It’s beyond football,” Giorgio Ricci, chief revenue officer of Juventus, said in emailed comments to AFP, addressing Ronaldo’s immense pulling power.

“Ronaldo’s success in China is not simply connected to his performance on the pitch and achievements over the years.

“Players have a stronger influence on (Chinese) fans than teams.

“As a matter of fact, fans online have become increasingly interested in individuals, as players have almost 30 percent more combined followers than their clubs.”

Juventus’s gain was Real’s loss in China, which along with the United States is a key overseas market for European football clubs.

Real may have won the Champions League again, but they suffered a net reduction of about 8,000 followers after Ronaldo’s departure, said a recent report by Shanghai-based digital marketing firm Mailman.

That said, Real remain hugely popular in China and are still the number one club online in the country, according to Mailman’s 2019 “Red Card” report.

Ronaldo, who along with Barcelona rival Lionel Messi has won the Ballon d’Or a record five times, has “actively worked toward building a strong image in China,” said Ricci.

That includes an annual visit to the country and deploying his own Chinese social media channels “to establish a connection with China and shorten the gap with fans.”

Last year the Portuguese superstar also became a brand ambassador for Chinese automaker Wey, strengthening his prominence in the country.


Godolphin happy with Thunder Snow ahead of Dubai World Cup defense

Updated 25 March 2019
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Godolphin happy with Thunder Snow ahead of Dubai World Cup defense

  • Five-year old bidding to become first horse to win back-to-back Dubai World Cups.
  • $12 million race takes place at Meydan on Saturday.

LONDON: Thunder Snow is preparing well as he bids to become the first horse to win back-to-back Dubai World Cups, according to Godolphin trainer Saeed bin Suroor.
The five-year-old memorably won the showcase $12 million race at Meydan by five and three-quarter lengths, winning in a track record time last year. He returned to the track on Super Saturday two weeks ago, finishing second in the Group 1 Al-Maktoum Challenge Round Three.
And Godolphin are expecting big things from him in the famous race. Bin Suroor, the most successful handler in the history of the 2000m dirt feature with eight winners to his name, is feeling confident.
“He did his final serious piece of work on Saturday and went very well indeed,” the Godolphin trainer said. “He needed his Super Saturday outing — his first run since November — badly and has come on a lot for it. We expect him to run a big race under conditions we know suit him, but obviously it is a good race.”
Thunder Snow has already made history as the only horse to win both the Group 2 UAE Derby and Group 1 Dubai World Cup, but if he is to win this Saturday then he will be revered for years to come.
One of his big rivals in the race will be Yoshida. Trained by Bill Mott he arrived in Dubai on March 19 in preparation for the cash-rich race. The Japanese-bred son of Heart’s Cry landed in the Emirate off a sixth-place finish in the inaugural Group 1 Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational at Gulfstream Park.
He won the Turf Classic at Churchill Downs, as well as the prestigious Woodward at Saratoga last year and Riley Mott, assistant to his father Bob, said Yoshida is looking good ahead of the big race.
“He’s settled in really well,” he said. “He traveled great and we’re very happy with him. The facilities here are top class. This is my seventh time over here and we’re treated very well.”
Yoshida went out just after 7:00 a.m. in Monday to stretch his legs over the famous dirt track.
“He just had a routine gallop this morning and we let him stand in the gate. Nothing too serious,” Mott said.
Jose Ortiz, who has piloted Yoshida though his last two starts and was aboard for the Grade 1 score at Churchill Downs, will make his first appearance in Dubai. Mott said he expects Ortiz, who guided Yoshida to a closing fourth-place effort in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, will have plenty of options in the 2000m race.
“It sounds like there’s a lot of pace from the local horses, but we have a horse that’s pretty versatile in the way he runs,” Mott said. “He’s able to adapt to the pace scenario. It’s just a matter of how the race develops in front of him.”