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

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.


Runners step back in time on AlUla’s historic trails

Updated 19 February 2020

Runners step back in time on AlUla’s historic trails

  • Top-ranked athletes came from Saudi Arabia, the US and the Netherlands

ALULA: More than 260 athletes from around the world took part in the recent EcoTrail AlUla, a multi-track running race through the dramatic landscapes of AlUla in Saudi Arabia’s northwest.
Top-ranked athletes came from Saudi Arabia, the US and the Netherlands. The race was staged as part of the second season of the Winter at Tantora festival, organized by the Royal Commission for AlUla to promote the historic site as an exceptional tourist destination for heritage, arts, culture and sports.

Events took place on three different courses — an 83 km track, followed by a 45 km and a 10 km track — with international athletes taking part in each of the races.

In the 10 km course, 139 contestants took part in the competition, with 125 managing to complete the run. Saudi runner Mohammed Madkhali won first place, while Yemeni runner Fares Aman Aldin came in second and another Saudi runner, Meshari Almuhanna, finished third.

In the women’s category, US runner Meredith Byrne won first place, Saudi runner Sarah Abdullatif came in second, and British runner Maureen McConnell finished third.

Ninety athletes took part in the 45 km race, with 85 finishing. Saudi runner Abdulaziz Al-Ghamdi came in first, with Australian Matthew Sudich second and French runner Nicholas Mordelet in third.

In the women’s category, Dutch runner Floortje Rawee came in first, followed by Italian Alessandra Grassi in second and American Natasha Turak third.

The 83 km race featured 37 athletes with only 17 finishing. In the men’s category, US runner Michael Wardian finished first, followed by Pierre Breuer from Belgium in second and Malaysia’s Soonseng Ong third.

In the women’s category, Amy Sproston from the US ranked first, with Ruth Theresia from Indonesia second and American Rachel Bessette third.

EcoTrail AlUla attracted athletes from around the world, most notably the US, UK, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, France, Sweden, the UAE, Malaysia, Singapore, Jordan, Oman, Peru, Poland and Indonesia.

The one-day trail gave visitors the opportunity to become acquainted with AlUla and its distinctive natural, cultural, architectural and historical monuments. The trail is an eye-catching destination for running enthusiasts and jogging clubs, and will encourage people to visit AlUla and Saudi Arabia to take part in a global sporting event that promotes environmentally friendly principles and initiatives.

The race contained several medical care stops and catering stations, and each participant received a number in addition to a welcome gift and a shirt. An inaugural dinner was held to welcome contestants on the night before the race.

EcoTrail AlUla is the first race to occur in the Middle East and one of the most notable sports events of this year’s Winter at Tantora festival. The race was sponsored by STC, Almarai Company, Sabeeka Energy Bar, Whites, and Hussak Adventures. The festival’s latest season also provides a wide range of diverse experiences that meet the needs of all visitors and entertain all tastes, for individuals, groups or families from all walks of life.

The festival began on Dec. 19 and will run until March 7, 2020. Guests of the second season of this year will be able to visit the astonishing historical and heritage sites exclusively, and attend the international musical and artistic performances.