Chinese Fandom and Potential Marketing Strategies for Expanding the Market for American Professional Sports into China

Article excerpt

Peer reviewed

Executive summary

As the economy of China has become more capitalistic, it has also been an increasingly attractive target market for American professional sports. The interrelated examples of the 2008 Summer Olympics and early expansion success experienced by the National Basketball Association (NBA) highlight the possibilities of expanding into the market of the largest country in the world. Expansion is a gradual process: of preparation, then entry into a market, then evolution to more entrenched activities (Cui, 1998). Initial expansion, which has already been achieved for some American professional sports in China, includes the marketing of products and brands. This increases via exhibition games and ultimately could reach the point of regular season games that 'count', franchising and competitive international leagues. With little in the academic literature examining global expansion into China, it is unclear how strong the market is for American professional sports. Also lacking is understanding of Chinese fans of professional sports

To better understand the potential of the Chinese market, a survey was used to assess the breadth and depth of the ways in which sports are followed for a sample of Chinese (n = 250) and American (n = 269) participants. The survey measured the degree to which participants were fans of various professional sports in general and US sports in particular. It also assessed which media fans used to follow sport, their feelings about expansion, fan identity and motives.

The survey results found that many Chinese were fans of American sports, especially the NBA, and that there were several significant differences between Chinese and American fans. Specifically, Chinese participants followed US professional sports via the internet and television more than American participants. Chinese fans were also more likely to follow their favourite professional sport because of an individual athlete, while Americans were more likely to follow their favourite professional sport because of a specific team. American fans had higher levels of fan identity than the Chinese, although the Chinese gave higher overall fan motivation scores. The primary motives for Chinese fans were aesthetics and affiliation whereas the primary motive for American fans was entertainment. The least relevant motive for both samples was economics. Finally, it was found that Chinese fans were significantly more interested in US professional sports being expanded into China than were American fans; Americans tended to be neutral on the subject.

Despite limitations of the survey, mostly due to the use of convenience sampling, these results suggest strategies for marketing to Chinese fans. Electronic forms of media (i.e. television, internet, video games) were most popular for fan following among the Chinese participants and certainly could be important for marketing American professional sports. Perhaps reflecting different cultural values of individualism versus collectivism, individual fan identity and entertainment were less important in China than they were in the US. Following individual athletes, aesthetics and affiliation were more important to the Chinese fans than to American fans. The NBA and more so the English Premier League (EPL) soccer clubs have already begun expansion into the extremely large potential market of China, setting examples of ways to be successful. The results from this study provide further insights into fandom and market potential.

Introduction

Over the past decade, American professional sports have invested considerable money and resources into marketing their leagues and events overseas. China, the largest country in the world, with more than 1 billion citizens, has been the target for many of these efforts. Because of China's economic growth and the development of a middle class with legitimate purchasing power, it is important for professional sports hoping to expand their markets to establish effective marketing strategies. …