Fans' Attention to, Involvement in, and Satisfaction with Professional Soccer in China

By Gong, Bo; Pifer, Nathan David et al. | Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, November 30, 2015 | Go to article overview

Fans' Attention to, Involvement in, and Satisfaction with Professional Soccer in China


Gong, Bo, Pifer, Nathan David, Wang, Jerry Junqi, Kim, Minhong, Kim, Minkil, Qian, Tyreal Yizhou, Zhang, James J., Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal


European leagues and clubs are primarily responsible for soccer having maintained and expanded its status as the world's most popular sport over the past decade (Frick, 2007; Matheson, 2003; Zygband, Collignon, Sultan, Santander, & Valensi, 2011). China is no exception to this upward trend in relation to the popularity of European soccer, and Chinese people also represent one of the English Premier League's (EPL) fastest growing fan bases (Sportingintelligence, 2011). Nonetheless, the high level of fan enthusiasm surrounding the European soccer leagues does not seem to be shared with China's domestic league, the Chinese Football Association Super League (CSL). Rather, the league's marred history of match fixing and bribery has prompted even some of China's leading sports figures to label it a "failure" and a "laughing stock" (Beech, 2014; Sportingintelligence, 2011). The EPL and other top leagues are generally devoid of such blatant corruption and also contain elite athletes who are considered to be the best in the world, but the same cannot be said of the CSL, where a lack of local or international star power is fueled by the national team's inability to qualify for the last three Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup tournaments (Beech, 2014).

The trend in China's economic development has laid a financial foundation for the rapid development of its sports teams. With reliance on the state-run system to promote sports, the government has invested considerable financial, material, and human resources into building a strong sport development system to achieve superior performance in international competitions (Bao, 2010). China joined FIFA in the early 1970s, when the Chinese government decided to vigorously promote the sport of soccer. Since then, football has gained increasing popularity as both a participant and spectator sport (Bao, 2010). China experienced some success in international competitions when the CSL was launched in 1994, with its national women's team coming second in the 1996 Olympic Games and also in the 1999 Women's World Cup, and its national men's team qualifying for the 2002 World Cup tournament, which was held in Japan and Korea. This upward trend did not last long, however, and over the past decade, there has been a great decline in the performance of Chinese soccer teams in international competitions. Recent reforms associated with building a new soccer administration system have achieved little effect with regard to both competitiveness and business operations. At present, the more reforms that take place, the weaker the performance of Chinese football teams becomes (Bao, 2010). Even when the China Guangzhou Evergrande Club won the Asian Soccer Championship in 2014, this did not ease the problems, conflicts, and challenges that are mainly in the following areas: (a) although the administration of Chinese soccer has been undergoing market-oriented reforms, the traditional centralized system, which is based on the power of the government, has not fundamentally changed; (b) there have been numerous instances of administrative corruption, errors, and scandals in recent years, such that the CSL has lost the trust of the public; and (c) the neglect of youth development has led to a serious shortage of talented players, skill deficiencies, and poor match quality (Gong, 2012). Today, China's national team holds a record low FIFA ranking, fluctuating between the 80th to the 110th position out of 208 members. Although Chinese people love soccer and it is, in fact, the most popular sport in China, fans are unhappy, dissatisfied, and even angry, with the CSL and Chinese soccer at large, as evidenced by their anti-CSL comments and complaints, and their indifference toward, and refusal to attend, CSL events. Although many Chinese people still care about, and closely follow, the CSL via media outlets, they have developed such a level of resentment that they are unwilling to attend or watch CSL events or buy CSL products (Gong, 2012). …

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