Manchester United’s preseason tour of China last summer has helped them replace Bayern Munich as the most popular club in the country, according to a study.
An annual study released by Mailman has revealed that United has the strongest local following on the Internet in the world’s most populous nation.
Premier League clubs held four of the top five spots in the survey written by the sports marketing platform, which works with clubs to increase their online presence in China.
Bayern, who claimed the top position in two of the last three years, were second, followed by Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City.
United’s Wayne Rooney and Anthony Martial were also regarded as among the most influential stars in China, with Martial’s separate profile on the social media platform Weibo among the reasons for his popularity.
“China is an exciting opportunity for me,” Martial is quoted as saying in the study. “The passion from the Chinese fans is amazing and it’s a great chance for me to give something back. Football is growing fast out there and I want to be more involved.”
The Premier League was not the preferred European league for Chinese fans, the study revealed, but instead ranked second. The largest following is claimed by the Bundesliga, as it has a comprehensive online presence in the country — including a Chinese version of its website.
“The Premier League is complacent,” David Hornby, Mailman’s head of sport, told BBC Sport: “Its clubs have decent numbers of followers on Weibo, but not as high engagement.
“The Bundesliga clubs are far more active. The German league tells its clubs what to do, whereas the respective Premier League clubs are in control of what they do.”
Clubs are evaluated on their social media following as well as their engagement through their websites and the accessibility of live streams of their games.
A local presence also helps. United played Borussia Dortmund in Shanghai in July before a match against Manchester City in Beijing was cancelled due to weather.
Hornby added, on United’s move to the top of their ranking: “There was a gap between following and engagement.
“United were the most followed, but Bayern were a country mile ahead regarding activity online. But United have taken big strides with fan events and a tour last year.”
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