Arsenal eclipses Manchester United as most popular soccer club in China

Chinese soccer fans say Arsenal is their favorite club. Here huge numbers turns out to watch the London club on tour.

Story highlights

  • Arsenal is the most popular soccer club among Chinese fans, according to a new survey
  • Manchester United and AC Milan were the next popular clubs in 16,000-fan survey
  • English Premier League clubs still struggle to profit from overseas fansbase
  • In China, Guangzhou Evergrande are taking the domestic league by storm

The bad news just keeps coming for English Premier League champions Manchester United.

Already out of the FA and League Cups, another English Premier defeat to Stoke at the weekend left the club lagging 15 points behind leaders Arsenal and now an online survey of Chinese fans reveals the London club has eclipsed United as the most popular football club in China.

Arsenal edged David Moyes' side as the most popular club with Italian side AC Milan third, and ahead of Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Germany was chosen as the most popular national side in China ahead of Italy and Spain while the English Premier League was the overwhelming favorite national division among Chinese fans, receiving 50% of the votes ahead of Spain's La Liga and Italy's Serie A.

The survey was conducted by Coventry University's Center for the International Business of Sport (CIBS) in England between September and November last year, and drew a total of 15,586 responses.

CIBS researcher Jiajia Song offered a possible explanation for why Chinese football fans may prefer Arsenal to Manchester United, which has regularly toured in the Far East.

"Fans are more likely to support a club team when players from their favorite national squad regularly make the starting line-up," said researcher Jiajia Song, who worked on the survey.

"This means players like Mesut Ozil and Lukas Podalski, both German international players and players for Arsenal, are likely to fulfill an important commercial and marketing role for club, country and league."

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Arsenal first played in China in 1995 but did not tour again until 2011, reportedly because manager Arsene Wenger preferred to focus on preseason training in Europe rather than embarking on potentially lucrative international tours.

Many of Arsenal's Premier League rivals, including United, Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea, have traveled to China and other Asian nations in the hope of boosting their preseason coffers.

But Professor Simon Chadwick, director of the CIBS, argues the potential revenue from a club's global fanbase is not being maximized.

"There's no doubt that clubs generate revenue from China, South Korea and Japan," Chadwick explained on Twitter. "Whether they make a profit is a different matter.

"Typically, less than 10% of turnover from a Premier League club comes from overseas sales. Compare European football to NBA in China, for example.

"The NBA has physical and marketing infrastructure set up on the ground to capitalize on opportunities to serve fans and customers."

For now, Arsenal and its Premier League peers still deem it worthwhile to travel east to play in front of their global fans, but they face growing competition from China's domestic game.

The Chinese Super League was established in 2004, rebranding the Jia-A league formed a decade earlier, and it has now been expanded to 16 teams.

Guangzhou Evergrande is the club taking the domestic league by storm and last November it became the first Chinese winners of the Asian Champions League.

The Chinese champions claims it regularly attracts 45,000 fans.

Evergrande is coached by Italian Marcello Lippi, who guided Italy to the 2006 World Cup. The foundation for Lippi's success is a group of burgeoning Chinese talent; he only has three international players among his ranks largely because the Chinese league limits each club to employing five international players.

Read: Moyes bemoans bad luck

Read: Manchester United team up with Chinese sponsors

Read: China soccer, vanity project or emerging power?

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