MILAN - AC Milan have proven themselves to be a successful anomaly in China. Despite recent difficulties on the pitch, their popularity in China across online channels is the fastest growing amongst all European football clubs.
In July 2015, they re-branded their Weibo account and launched an official WeChat presence, ahead of their pre-season tour to China later that month as part of the inaugural ICC China tournament. Weibo (China’s Twitter equivalent) and WeChat (the fastest growing social network worldwide) are the top two social networks in China, platforms which most top European teams have been targeting over the past 4 years, attempting to establish themselves as the most popular and engaged club in China.
Their tour in China was a huge success across all media platforms. The club’s match against Real Madrid had the highest % viewership rating of all summer fixtures in China. Meanwhile, their social following increased by 200,000 fans, with their engagement level growing to a level comparable with a top 5 club. The surprising part however, is that following the tour, their growth did not slow down, instead it sped up.
Clubs like Manchester United and FC Barcelona have amassed more than 5 million followers across these networks and are two of the most engaged clubs online. AC Milan are now approaching the half a million mark, but what’s so impressive is the loyalty and passion of their fan base in this region. The club’s online engagement has surpassed that of Europe’s top teams who have more than 10 times the number of online followers. AC Milan ended the year with the highest engagement per post of any club on Weibo.
As a result of their transformational six months, AC Milan finished 7th in this year’s Red Card report, an online study into top European team’s digital performance in China.
AC Milan’s success is most remarkable when compared to other Italian teams and when considering the lack of support from the Serie A. Juventus similarly launched their Weibo account prior to their China tour this summer, however, they experienced a very different level of growth to AC Milan. With only 10,000 total Weibo followers and an engagement 4 times lower than their Italian rivals, Juventus are trailing the Milan time online in China. Meanwhile, Serie A is now the only top European league without an official digital presence in China, with Premier League, Bundesliga and LaLiga all supporting their domestic teams online - a huge benefit for each club.
One of the reasons behind the huge growth in engagement is Milan Quan (米兰圈), the only supporters club in China that work as a central hub for all their fans. AC Milan recognised their influence, and rewarded them for their growing level of activity on their official social channels. Having involved these core fans in the club’s social activity, the fans felt a huge sense of recognition and incentive to come back. This was clearly seen after AC Milan’s birthday post became the #2 most engaged Weibo post from any European club in 2015.
2016 will bring new opportunities for the club to grow, a Chinese language website is key to providing in-depth content, whilst increased co-operation with major Chinese media will continue to grow their fan base.