Chinese New Year - What we can learn from European Clubs' Initiatives

Chinese New Year - What we can learn from European Clubs' Initiatives
Chinese New Year has become THE major marketing event among European football clubs on Chinese social media channels. From greeting videos to prize draw competitions; from Chinese versions of jerseys to special red envelopes, European football clubs are making every effort to please Chinese football fans. Are they successful? What’s the Good, the Bad and the Ugly? Now that Chinese New Year has drawn to a close, let’s look back at a few case studies from European clubs on their creative initiatives.

Real Madrid

Real Madrid’s Chinese New Year video has been reviewed favourably by the public in China. The greeting video featured Karim Benzema, Eden Hazard, Lucas Vázquez and Nacho Fernandez playing a traditional Chinese strategy game Mahjong. Los Blancos have got involved with the Chinese New Year celebrations by sharing a series of creative videos since 2013. This year’s video has been viewed nearly 1.7 million times on Weibo alone, plus 8,100+ shares and 2,100+ comments.

The top comment was the picture of the current head coach Zinedine Zidane watching Chinese senior citizens play Mahjong on the street in 2018 when he made his trip to China. This photo soon became a popular internet meme because Chinese netizens love to see famous stars like Zidane are so down-to-earth and are willing to learn and enjoy Chinese traditional cultures.

(Zinedine Zidane was watching Chinese senior citizens playing Mahjong on street in 2018, Source

At the end of 2018, Zidane was invited by CCTV 5, the main sports broadcaster of China Central Television family to talk about his Mahjong watching experience. Zidane said he didn’t figure out the rules after watching for at least 10 minutes. Fans were amused by his honest answer and recommended Zidane to learn Mahjong, the quintessence of Chinese culture.

This year, when fans saw Real Madrid launching this Mahjong video, the internet exploded with positive comments. People praise Zidane as a legendary coach because he is not only coaching football strategy and skill, but also delivering his culture learning to players which leads to great fan engagement for Real Madrid.

Inter Milan

Inter Milan are no strangers to having special Chinese printing on their shirts as the history can be traced back to 2005 when theyplayed against Livorno at San Siro Stadium.

(Inter Milan jersey featured Pirelli tires brand name in Chinese in 2005, source:

In the past four years, Inter Milan continued the tradition to wear a special-edition shirt that features player names written in Mandarin in an official match during the Chinese New Year period. In addition to the players names being displayed in Mandarin, the shirt numbers have a pattern bearing the traditional “FU” character, a typical message of good luck, done in different styles of Chinese calligraphy. The shirt has also been worn by the Nerazzurri players on Sunday 26 January when they played against Cagliari.

Inter Milan are owned by Chinese company Suning Holdings Group. Therefore, they have been heavily focused on growing their Chinese audiences for the Nerazzurri family. Apart from launching the limited edition Chinese New Year jersey, the theme video featured Samir Handanovic, who himself was born in the year of Rat, along with his teammates, Berni, D’Ambrosio, Lukaku, Brozovic, Vecino and Inter Coach Antonio Conte all exchanging gifts.

The unique part of this video is that the gifts are linked to the nicknames given to players by supporters from China. Inter Milan has embraced to the Chinese football fan culture of having special Chinese names for players and trend to create memes based on players and clubs’ performances. Inter has leveraged this culture by localizing their Chinese content to please supporters which gives them a competitive advantage compared to other European football teams.

(Inter Milan Home Shirt celebrating the Lunar New Year, Source:

Manchester Utd

Speaking of the special-edition shirt, Manchester United’s Chinese New Year shirt, on the other hand, has been teased on by Chinese fans on social media sites. This football jersey featuring an intricately embroidered dragon emblem on the chest shows the strong stereotype of Chinese style from the western perspective. Many fans commented with “Are you going to wear this to ascend the throne?” “As bad as the team themselves...” “Looks like Chinese graveclothes…”

Nowadays, Chinese consumers are tiring of traditional red and gold themed products with dragon and phoenix patterns. Although they are proud of their culture, they are annoyed at cynical attempts from western brands to sell their own culture back to them. The similar mistake that Italian fashion house Dolce & Gabbana made was still memorable among Chinese citizens.  The advertisement showed a Chinese woman struggling to eat spaghetti and pizza with chopsticks was criticised for being patronising and racist for using Chinese stereotypes.

(Daniel James modelled the limited edition Manchester United shirt, Source: Adidas website)

Though the Chinese New Year jersey didn’t manage to win fans’ hearts, The Red Devils have a secret weapon to attract new fans by working with a well-known Chinese entertainer and die-hard United fan Lu Han with 61 million followers on Weibo. He has acted as a ‘Red Devil Messenger' to wish football fans a Happy Chinese New Year and genuinely shows his passion and support for United in China. Lu Han also holds a Guinness World Record for the most comments on a single Weibo post about his love on the Reds which generated more than 100 million comments up to date. It’s a successful case study on how brands can leverage true influential fans to achieve win-win marketing strategy.

(Manchester Utd brand ambassador, Lu Han, source: Manchester United website)

FC Barcelona

FC Barcelona have a deep knowledge on how to localize their content to fit the taste of the China market. The Club is the first European football club in history to collaborate with the China Academy of Art (CAA) to produce a series of posters that combine the Club’s stars with traditional Chinese patterns and graphics during the Chinese New Year period. Those vivid visual designs, featured Lionel Messi, Luís Suárez, Marc-André ter Stegen, Antoine Griezmann and Lieke Martens from Barcelona Women, each with traditional Chinese symbols including dragons, qilins, lion dances and cranes have generated thousands of comments and shares on Weibo because they represent both the FC Barcelona brand and Chinese culture and heritage. This successful collaboration serves to promote both the Club and its players as well as traditional Chinese culture, according to Bi Xuefeng, the Dean of School of Design from CAA.

(Source: FC Barcelona Twitter account)

In addition to the posters, FC Barcelona have also created a 60 seconds animated video telling the story of the family of a young Barça fan in China getting his home ready for the festive season. The story features the cartoon characters of the Club’s first team players in line with the typical Chinese animation style. Moreover, there is another video starring players who drew the Peking Opera facial makeup, the most famous form of Chinese opera and then greeted fans in Mandarin.

Altogether, the posters, the videos, the prize draw competition, is expressing celebration and best wishes for the Chinese New Year with lively and festive vibes. A few Barcelona fans said “Now I’m not jealous of what our neighbour (refer to Real Madrid video) did, our club is doing great too!”

RCD Espanyol & Wolverhampton Wanderers F.C.

The similarity between RCD Espanyol and Wolverhampton Wanderers F.C. is that they both have Chinese players in the team ---Wu Lei and He Zhenyu (B team). These two players lead the Chinese New Year greeting videos along with their teammates on behalf of the clubs to showcase Chinese New Year traditions.

(Naldo, Wu Lei and Sergi Darder greeting fans a Happy Chinese New Year, source:

In the Chinese New Year video, Wu Lei introduced the Spring Festival couplets which are blessings and good wishes poems written on red paper to celebrate the New Year with this colleagues Sergi Darder and Naldo; He Zhenyu hosted a Chinese New Year quiz for his team to test their knowledge on this important festival. In Wolves’ greeting video, Rúben Neves, Romain Saiss, Ivan Cavaleiro and Hélder Costa have been divided into two teams to answer questions such as when is Chinese New Year 2020 and who are last seasons CSL champions.

(Rúben Neves, Romain Saiss, Ivan Cavaleiro and Hélder Costa on the spot of Chinese New Year quiz, source: Wolves website)

For those smaller clubs who don’t have a huge budget on Chinese New Year marketing campaigns, why not take examples from Espanyol and Wolves on making entertaining content related to promote Chinese cultures and traditions. Chinese fans are happy to see players outside the football field especially when they are facing some challenges on answering questions not in their areas and showing their willingness to learn local cultures and language.


It has become the norm for European clubs to run marketing campaigns during the Chinese New Year period. With loads of similar video content of wishing people a happy Chinese New Year featuring players speaking Chinese, the best way to stand out and win supporters hearts to truly adapt Chinese football fans unique culture by monitoring latest trends and public opinion, getting rid of the culture stereotype and collaborating with local brands, individuals or institutions who share similar values.

With the coronavirus outbreak spreading across China, many European clubs including Leicester City, PSG, A.C. Milan and many clubs joint-together from the Bundesliga are sending their sincere wishes to Chinese fans and donating supplies to China which have received widespread appreciation from the public. We look forward to seeing more genuine and innovative engagements from European clubs in this market.


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