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World Cup 2018: Whose fans are winning?

Wednesday 4 July 2018

WITH the World Cup now well underway, and amazingly England still in the tournament, Simon Chadwick, Professor of Sports Enterprise, at the University of Salford Business School, looks at patterns of fan attendance so far.

Writing in The Conversation, Professor Chadwick said that the numbers of England fans in Russia is down on previous tournaments.

He added:  “Certain distinctive groups of fans have left their mark on the tournament even if their team has not. The Peruvians were there in huge numbers (possibly up to 80,000), the Senegalese danced their way through their country’s first match, and the Japanese cleaned the stadium up after the national team’s opening game. England fans have, however, been far less noticeable than one would normally expect.

“Whether it’s because of the Skripal poisonings in Salisbury or the threat of Russian hooligan violence, ahead of the tournament England’s fans had only bought 31,000 World Cup tickets between them. 

“Top of the list was Russia (800,000), with the likes of Brazil, Germany and Mexico predictably also appearing. Somewhat surprisingly, the non-qualifying United States accounted for the second most ticket sales (80,000).

“Though without a home team, Chinese fans enjoy themselves as much as anyone else. An estimated 60,000 Chinese fans will make the ninth largest showing during the Russia World Cup. 

“Even more surprising is China’s appearance on the list. In fact, with 37,000 tickets sold according to FIFA, and Chinese state media claiming a total of 60,000 in Russia, it appears there are more Chinese fans at the tournament than English fans. This is despite China being a country whose World Cup record is abysmal, having qualified only once – in 2002 – when it lost all three of its games by an aggregate score of nine-nil. It is also a country most people do not commonly associate with football, even though China’s president Xi Jinping wants his country to become a major global player.

“One should not forget either that China has a rather different relationship with Russia than, say, England or France. The two countries’ leaders recently said their relationship is possibly the closest it has ever been, hence it is likely that Chinese travellers do not feel intimated by thoughts of, say, being attacked by local hooligans. Otherwise, fans recently engaged with football following the Chinese government’s promotion of the sport may simply see the World Cup as a way of indulging in their new-found passion.

“One can be sure though that most of those Chinese following the tournament in Russia will not be from a super-rich elite, but members of the country’s sizeable middle class which has emerged after years of buoyant economic growth. By 2022, it has been estimated that 76% of China’s urban population will be classified as middle class, with purchasing power somewhere between the average incomes of Brazil and Italy. This compares with only 4% in 2000.

“This has resulted in a spending boom among middle-class consumers, with people typically consuming anything from personal development and fitness products to clothes and entertainment. Many are motivated by a desire to boost their social image, hence their consumption is frequently conspicuous and often focused on high-end brands. Chinese consumers also have an increasingly strong global outlook. The country’s outbound tourism expenditure now totals more than US$260 billion, double that of the US.

“The World Cup therefore plays to a narrative now routinely associated with China’s increasingly affluent population: people who are keen to engage with the world’s biggest and best football tournament for the status it confers upon them, which they may also consume in conjunction with supporting a similarly status-laden national team or superstar.”

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Sam Wood

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