Education & Family

Arsenal most popular for Chinese football fans

Arsenal football club Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Arsenal have the biggest fanbase in China, according to sports researchers

Arsenal are the most popular international football team among fans in China, according to research from a UK university's specialist sports research centre.

But Chinese football fans are likely to support Germany in the World Cup, says the Coventry University study.

Manchester United are the second most popular team, says the Centre for the International Business of Sport.

The findings are based on a survey of 16,000 Chinese football supporters.

The study is part of a project to find how English Premier League football is being followed by overseas audiences - and reveals how much it is a leading global brand.

From football shirts to television rights, football is a competitive global industry.

The study shows the English Premier League to be the most popular international league, followed by the top tiers of football in Spain, Italy and Germany.

Sharing enthusiasm

And English clubs have the biggest Chinese fanbase, ahead of teams such as AC Milan in Italy and Real Madrid and Barcelona in Spain.

Among national teams, Chinese fans are most likely to support Germany, followed by Italy, Spain and then England.

The study was carried out in partnership with a Chinese microblogging website - and the researchers say that support for a team seems to be influenced by how much fans can share their enthusiasms with other fans online.

A high proportion of fans expect to be able to use social networking to talk about their favourite club.

Prof Simon Chadwick, director of the Coventry centre, says: "A sense of fraternity is very important to Chinese fans, and the rapid growth of social media enables them to gather together and discuss all aspects of 'their' team or league."

This includes websites such as the Arsenal Fans' Association of China, which says it is dedicated to "promoting and spreading the Arsenal footballing spirits".

Researcher Jiajia Song also highlights the commercial importance of where clubs and national teams overlap, particularly when players are regulars in both teams.

"This means players like Mesut Ozil and Lukas Podalski, both German international players and players for the English Premier League's Arsenal, are likely to fulfil an important commercial and marketing role for club, country and league," says Mr Song.

Prof Chadwick says the study provides a "ground-breaking" understanding of how English football is being consumed by sports fans in China.

A spokesman for the university said the Chinese market is particularly important for European clubs.

As well as being a potentially huge market for merchandising, international club football has gained a higher profile in China, compared with their own domestic and national team.

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