Why Chinese fans and companies are captivated by the Euros

Gao Shuyi, 22, became a fan of the Dutch national team thanks to Robin van Persie’s performance during the 2014 World Cup. “I buy a Dutch football shirt for every important match. I have many at home with my parents, but here I only have four,” he says. His kit is a real Nike. Gao had Virgil van Dijk’s shirt number printed on it in a Chinese shop.

Zhang (23) has also been a fan of the Dutch national team since she watched the World Cup ten years ago. “Then, the Netherlands defeated Spain 5-1. I immediately became a fan of Van Persie and Arjen Robben,” says the student. Both players scored twice against Spain at the time.

Unfortunately, her official jersey is at her parents’ house in Zibo, a Chinese city between Beijing and Shanghai. That’s why she randomly wears an orange jersey during the match against Turkey, which doesn’t start until 3am in China. According to Zhang, watching football in China is not only popular among men. “I know a lot of female fans, but they are from another country. It’s hard to find Dutch supporters,” she says.

Despite the time difference that means Chinese fans have to watch matches in the middle of the night, millions of people are watching the Euros. There are no official audience figures yet, but the previous Euro 2021 was watched by 352 million fans in China. This time, as then, UEFA expects more than 5 billion viewers worldwide. There is every chance that Chinese participation will be even higher.

Failure

Because Chinese fans do not have to rely on their own team to win international matches. China has only qualified for the World Cup once, in 2002. The Chinese team lost every match. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s dream is to avenge this failure in the future.

Will that ever work? Fans laugh disdainfully at this. “No!” Zhou Lining immediately shouts. “The whole system is problematic, even the youth team. You just see that Chinese footballers play at a much lower level,” he explains. Even though Zhou thinks the Chinese team is bad, he still watches it. “It’s like a wife you’ve been through a lot with. You can’t leave her. There’s pain and happiness. It’s a love-hate relationship,” Zhou says.

He is supporting England at this European Championship and has been an England fan since the 1998 World Cup. “Cristiano Ronaldo and David Beckham were big stars at the time. And in China, many people were Manchester United fans,” says Zhou.

For now, only Chinese companies are shining at international football events. At the European Championships, five of the thirteen sponsors are Chinese. This is one more than at the previous Euro 2021, and before that in 2016 there was only one. At that time, Hisense was the first Chinese company to sponsor a European championship.

That turned out well for the Chinese electronics company. Hisense grew by 35 percent in the European market that year. In the host country, France, Hisense even managed to increase sales by 300 percent in 2016.

It is also worth noting that BYD is sponsoring the European Championship for the first time this year. The Chinese car manufacturer replaces the German brand Volkswagen as the official sponsor of the European Championship in Germany. It is all the more painful that the European Union imposes high import duties on electric cars from China.

According to Chinese media, Europe should not view Chinese companies in such a negative light. The Chinese newspaper Global times describes the European Championship as an “example of win-win cooperation between China and the EU.” According to ChinaDiary Leading Chinese companies would strengthen their international reputation by sponsoring the European Championship.

Chinese characters

But Chinese companies’ advertising on the football pitch is not only aimed at the European market. This is evident from the fact that on television advertisements in Chinese characters regularly appear behind football players. This does not go unnoticed by the millions of fans in China, who talk about it at length on Chinese social networks.

“Football is popular in China and has a lot of influence. China is big and there is a lot of money,” says Yao Yuan (34). He watches the games with his brother, both dressed in German football uniforms. These were bought from a Chinese webshop. Yao finds the official Nike or Adidas jerseys too expensive, especially since he will not wear them again after this Euro. “I was a fan of the Netherlands, but since Van Persie left, there are no strong players. The Netherlands also have a chance, though,” he predicts.

Read also:

Holland faces England with a team that is not the same, except on penalties

In the semi-finals of the European Championship, the Netherlands will face England, who defeated Switzerland in a fascinating (and educational) way in the quarter-finals.

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