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.


Qatar in talks to buy stake in Leeds United

Updated 26 May 2019
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Qatar in talks to buy stake in Leeds United

  • QSI’s chief Nasser Al-Khelaifi was charged with corruption in connection with the bidding process for this year’s world athletics championships in Doha
  • Leeds United plays in the second tier of English professional football, the Championship, and will be Qatar Sports Investment’s (QSI) first venture into British football

DUBAI: Qatar is in talks to buy a stake in UK football club Leeds United, the Financial Times reported.

Leeds United plays in the second tier of English professional football, the Championship, and will be Qatar Sports Investment’s (QSI) first venture into British football. It currently controls France’s Paris Saint-Germain.

“Qatar Sports Investments will be entering English Football, and Leeds is the club of their choice,” a person familiar with the talks told FT. “Qatar has been looking into the prospects of entering English Football for the past two years.”

QSI’s chief Nasser Al-Khelaifi was charged with corruption in connection with the bidding process for this year’s world athletics championships in Doha, judicial sources said.

Al-Khelaifi, who is also the boss of Qatari television channel BeIN Sports, has been under investigation since March in a probe of the bidding process for the 2017 and the 2019 world championships.

French prosecutors are looking specifically at two payments of $3.5 million in 2011 by Oryx Qatar Sports Investment, a company jointly owned by Al-Khelaifi and his brother Khalid, to a sports marketing firm run by Papa Massata Diack.

Diack’s father Lamine Diack was president of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) from 1999 to 2015 and a member of the International Olympic Committee.

As well as probing the world athletics championships the French investigation is also examining circumstances in which the Olympic Games were awarded to Rio de Janeiro for 2016 and Tokyo for 2020.

Prior to the decision to charge him, Al-Khelaifi had been questioned in March as “person of interest” in the case revolving around the 2011 payments by Oryx which were made at a time when Doha was seeking to host the 2017 world athletics championship and the 2020 Olympics.

Investigators were seeking to determine whether, in return for the payments, Lamine Diack used his influence to gain votes for Doha among IAAF members and also to obtain a date change for the competitions to avoid the heat of the Qatar summer.

(With AFP)