Chinese Whispers and Urban Myths

By Chadwick, Simon | International Journal of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship, October 2008 | Go to article overview

Chinese Whispers and Urban Myths


Chadwick, Simon, International Journal of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship


In 2003, Manchester City and Everton football clubs in the English Premier League met in a match in which there were two Chinese international players, Sun Jihai for City and Li Tie for Everton. This game has achieved mythical status for some, with reports of 300 million people having watched the game on television in China. For anyone with an interest in international developments in sport, particularly the commercial opportunities associated with new media technology, this game stood as evidence enough to justify the global push for new business.

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Imagine my surprise when I attended a sports management conference in North America earlier this year--more than five years after the City-Everton match--to hear from NBA fans of the impact of a game in which Yao Ming and Wang Zhizhi, both Chinese players, had faced one another. They told me that Chinese interest in the game had been such that huge numbers of fans had watched on television in China. To be precise: 300 million fans.

Most of us are complicit in perpetuating such myths, just as most of us have fallen victim at some time to Chinese whispers. But the remarkable similarity of these two anecdotes raises important questions, not least about the size and extent of the international marketplace; and whether anyone does actually have a reasonably accurate estimate of how many Chinese people watch Premier League football or, for that matter, how many Europeans are NASCAR fans, how many Australians watch Indian cricket and how many Americans follow South Korean baseball.

We are still in the formative stages of coming to terms with what happens to sports as they spread across the world, entering new markets as they go. This clearly implies a need to gather detailed intelligence and market research. It also shows that Chinese whispers are not necessarily the best foundation upon which to base an international development strategy. …

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