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China Digest | China still a player in 2018 World Cup

Weekly round-up of sports business news from the Chinese sports industry.

China still a player in 2018 World Cup

With the absence of China on the pitch in Russia, a raft of articles have been looking at China’s influence on the World Cup off it. Caixin Global says Chinese companies have upped their game because of the endorsements they have provided to the tournament, while the BBC looks at how they have filled the sponsorship gap. The South China Morning Post takes both sides, arguing that the World Cup offers fantastic visibility for Chinese firms making their mark, but saying that fans around the world are still confused as to the nature of those firms. Meanwhile, as Fifa’s increased transparency inspires the UK to ponder a future World Cup bid in 2030 – one of the years China is thought to have targeted for its own bid – there is now concern that the removal of US protectorates Puerto Rico, Guam and US Virgin Islands from the 2026 vote could mean China could no longer count on the support of Hong Kong and Macau as and when it tables a bid.

A third of  World Cup counterfeit tickets sold to Chinese fans

Chinese media reports have said that a third of all counterfeit tickets at the World Cup have been sold to Chinese fans, who are making up one of the largest travelling populations in Russia this summer. Thecover.cn website cited a notice from the Russian embassy which said a rogue Russian company had sold more than 10,000 fake tickets, of which more than 3,500 had gone to Chinese customers. The scam is thought to have centred on southwestern China, with 30 tourists from the city of Chongqing denied entry to Argentina’s match against Iceland in Moscow last Saturday. China did not qualify for the World Cup, but more than 40,000 tickets have been sold to Chinese fans, with only US fans buying more among non-competing countries.

Neymar joins forces with Chinese brand Oppo

Brazil star Neymar Jr has continued to add to his Chinese roster of sponsorship deals after teaming up with mobile phone company Oppo, with associated TV commercials on heavy rotation on state broadcaster CCTV throughout the World Cup so far. Neymar will serve as an ambassador for Oppo, though this is not his first association with the brand: he also featured in advertising campaigns for Oppo while at his former club Barcelona, who had a team sponsorship deal with the firm. Interestingly, one of Oppo’s main rivals both in China and overseas is official World Cup sponsor Vivo, while another of Neymar’s recent tie-ups involves Chinese TV manufacturer TCL, whose rival Hisense is also an official World Cup sponsor.

Dr Xia’s financial woes continue at Villa

Chinese businessman Tony Xia’s ongoing financial troubles at Aston Villa do not appear to be easing any time soon, with the club due to meet with the Football League over the club’s precarious situation. In addition to slashing the wage bill to meet pressing Financial Fair Play commitments, the club is also facing a legal challenge from sacked CEO Keith Wyness, which could cost the club an additional £6m. Meanwhile, the Birmingham Mail says Xia is looking for investment of up to £30m and would even consider selling the club outright if a bid of around £80m is made to avoid making a loss on his 2016 purchase. However, given the club’s well-publicized situation, with another £11m bill due at the end of June, that prospect remains highly unlikely.

West Brom won’t rely on Chinese owner’s money

Meanwhile, Villa’s Midlands rivals West Brom say they are determined to avoid a similar fate following relegation from the Premier League, partly because the club is not reliant on additional cash from Chinese owner Lai Guochuan and will instead operate a more financially prudent model. The club has previously stated it will need an overdraft this summer for the first time in 10 years, but its players will see 50 per cent pay cuts to compensate for falling income. Chinese striker Zhang Yuning is still contracted to the club but was loaned to Werder Bremen last year due to work permit issues in the UK. He remains a valuable, if distant, asset, and will line up for ADO Den Haag in Holland next season, after seeing minimal playing time in Germany.

Also this week:

And some further reading:

  • A selection of views on what the World Cup means to China – and vice versa.
  • Ice hockey legend Alex Kovalev explains how his path back to the NHL has taken him to China.
  • China begins an overhaul of its badminton structure with the firing of a prominent coach.

The China Digest is written by Mark Dreyer, who runs the China Sports Insider website, which features sports business news and analysis related to China’s fast-growing sports industry. He has worked for Sky Sports, Fox Sports, AP Sports and many others, and has covered major sporting events on five continents, including three Olympic Games. He has been based in China since 2007.

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