Messi real superstar in China

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Messi gets superstar’s welcome in China ahead of Australia friendly Chinese fans wait for members of Argentina’s football team in the lobby of a hotel where the team is staying in Beijing on June 10, 2023. But is this success really linked to the sport ?

Argentina will play a friendly football match against Australia on June 15 at Beijing’s newly-renovated 68,000-capacity Workers’ Stadium. Sun, June 11, 2023 Hundreds of jubilant fans greeted Lionel Messi as he arrived on Saturday in Beijing, where his World Cup-winning Argentina will face Australia in a friendly match next week.

“Messi! Messi!” chanted several hundred fans who were waiting for the football superstar at the airport, many wearing the blue-and-white striped jersey of the Albiceleste’s No 10, according to social media images. Several hundred others waited outside the team’s hotel, not far from the banks of the Liangma River, popular with Beijingers for strolls.

This is Messi’s seventh trip to China, the last being in 2017, according to local media. Several banners written in Spanish and English welcomed the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner at the hotel.

Sport or marketing?

This has been reflected in the three top runners’ commercial activities in the Chinese market. Whilst Neymar was reported to have been preferred by marketers in China during the last World Cup in 2018, Ronaldo and Messi have seen a more stable pursuit from Chinese brands including dairy giants Mengniu and Yili, Huawei, and one of China’s biggest short video platforms Kuaishou over the past few years.

The latest World Cup Trend Report published by China’s e-commerce giant Taobao on 14 December also gives a mirror of their commercial values. As Argentina entered their sixth World Cup finals with a victory over Croatia, while merchants of the Argentina team are trending in the hot search on Taobao’s marketplace, Messi has become the top-rank of football players’ online sales value index. It is reported that now the value possessed by Messi in China is twice as high as that of Ronaldo and four times as high as that held by Neymar.

Such public appearances coupled with the players’ continued occurrence under the spotlight in China’s digital space as the football sensation continues, will engrain those big names in the memories of the next generation of China’s football aficionados.

Although football is not as popular as other sports in China (badminton, ping pong, martial arts, basketball !!), over 200 million people participate in football and enjoy watching it – and football is one of the most popular sports in the world. There are over 26 million registered Chinese football players, with the popularity of football growing throughout the country.