Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – China may not be sending parts to Qatar, but Chinese businesses will have a lot of money as sponsors for the 2022 World Cup.
Chinese brands are the biggest contributors to this month’s competition – surpassing US companies with well-known names such as Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Budweiser.
Chinese investors will get $1.395bn in the competition, which will be held from November 20-December 18, more than the $1.1bn spent by US companies, according to Global Data, a London-based data analysis and consultancy firm.
Broken down by year, Chinese aid amounts to $207m per year, compared to Qatari and the US who spend $134m and $129m, respectively, according to the data.
The dominance of Chinese companies in this competition reflects the desire of its companies to expand their awareness overseas to a level that matches their growth and reach.
The rise of Chinese sponsors also coincides with President Xi Jinping’s dream of transforming China, which saw China emerge in 2002, as a major football power through ambitious plans and goals, such as increasing the number of schools with football fields 10 times by 2025. . . .
While the Chinese sponsors of the 2022 race – Wanda Group, Vivo, Mengniu Dairy and Hisense – have a low reputation outside their country, they are big businesses with billions in revenue and thousands of employees.
Wanda Group, a business group founded in 1988, and Mengniu, one of China’s largest milk producers, have each made the Fortune 500 list several times.
“The World Cup works for Chinese companies both outside and inside China because football has a huge following with the Chinese people,” Martin Roll, an industry analyst and consultant in Singapore, told Al Jazeera.
“It strongly shows that these Chinese brands are playing around the world, and it shows that the Chinese audience has an important role. Being a sponsor and partner of the World Cup is for a few selected brands that can afford it, therefore, just being a part of it, is a proof of what the Chinese want.”
Chinese companies hope that the association with this beautiful sport will help them to get rid of the misconceptions about the “made in China” tag, said Paul Temporal, a business expert at the Saïd Business School at Oxford University.
“Sports facilities allow Chinese people to connect with people around the world who share the universal love of sports. Football crosses all cultural boundaries and reaches the whole world,” Temporal told Al Jazeera.
“The Chinese people have learned from their Western counterparts that, although it is expensive to get access to the best events in the world, sponsoring sports brings long-term results for the country and the world. The brands that go to the world are the ambassadors of the Chinese brand. and if they succeed in the international market, they can have a positive effect on the image of the country.”
The biggest Chinese sponsor in Qatar so far is Wanda Group, one of the seven FIFA Partners – which are major sponsors – along with Coca-Cola, Adidas, Hyundai, Kia, Qatar Airways, QatarEnergy, and Visa.
The Beijing-based consortium, which owns real estate, entertainment, media, manufacturing and financial services, has committed $850m as part of a 15-year deal covering all World Cup events until 2030, according to Global Data.
Vivo, a consumer electronics company based in the southern city of Dongguan, is spending $450m as part of a six-year deal that includes the 2017 Confederations Cup and 2018 World Cup.
Mengniu, which is headquartered in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, and Hisense, a Qingdao-based electronics maker, have committed to invest $60m and $35m respectively.
“Many Chinese companies have expanded globally by buying foreign products. Lenovo and Haier have followed this strategy in addition to their construction,” Carlos Torelli, a professor of marketing at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, told Al Jazeera, referring to the famous Chinese computers and consumer electronics.
“This makes it easier to enter the international market with a sustainable brand. However, many other Chinese brands are trying to develop their products and events like the World Cup are very good to raise awareness. Participation in these events can help expand the market in the future.”
While solar power equipment manufacturer Yingli Solar became China’s first sponsor of the World Cup at the 2010 tournament in South Africa, Chinese companies began to make their presence known at the 2018 tournament in Russia.
After leading companies, including Sony, Emirates and Johnson & Johnson, left FIFA in 2014 and 2015 amid allegations of corruption in the bidding of the tournament by Russia and Qatar, Chinese companies filled the bill.
Soon after Wanda Group signed its biggest sponsorship deal in 2016, the company’s founder Wang Jianlin said the disputes were an “opportunity” for Chinese companies that may not have had the opportunity to support the competition “even if we wanted”.
At least seven Chinese companies sponsored the 2018 race, spending a total of $835m – more than the US and Russian brands.
Chinese companies have maintained their strong presence at the 2021 Copa América, South America’s biggest soccer tournament, making up three of the four sponsors.
Kuaishou, TCL Technology and Sinovac found themselves working on more sponsorship deals after several sponsors, including Mastercard and Diageo, pulled out amid controversy over the health risks to players and COVID-19.
Ahead of Qatar 2022, Chinese brands have also shown themselves to be more reluctant to debate human rights issues than their corporate counterparts elsewhere.
Unlike Budweiser, Adidas, Coca-Cola, and McDonald’s, Chinese sponsors have not shown support for the Human Rights Watch campaign calling on FIFA and Qatar to compensate migrant workers and their families for the deaths and injuries that occurred during World Cup preparations.
The Qatari government has said it has made “significant progress” in the reform process and continues to work with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to “ensure that the reform is far-reaching and effective”. Qatari officials have also denied allegations of corruption in their bid for the World Cup.
“Many around the world are careful not to get involved in the political debate about their support, so they may have been reluctant to join as supporters,” Roll said.
Nigel Currie, director of sports marketing and sponsorship agency NC Partnership, said, however, that major sponsors around the world chose to continue with the competition because of the huge business opportunities involved.
“There is a debate about the World Cup being held in Qatar. However, can Coca-Cola pull out and put Pepsi at risk to enter?” Currie told Al Jazeera.
“Will Visa give up their position and allow Mastercard to come back? The car sector is very competitive and the world’s car companies would like to take over Hyundai Kia. The same argument can be made for several other product categories. The fact is that the World Cup contracts are held for several World Cups and is designed to keep competitors out and give big companies a unique opportunity to reach billions of people around the world.”
Josh Gardner, CEO and co-founder of China-focused agency Kung Fu Data, said he hopes Chinese brands will continue to gain global popularity because they are “looking for ways to build a presence beyond their own country”.
“This is no different from the similar sponsorship deals in China and Hollywood,” Mr Gardner told Al Jazeera, pointing to deals involving Vivo, messenger Tencent QQ and e-commerce company Jingdong.
“Remember the many Marvel and DC movies with characters like Vivo and QQ and put the Jingdong logo on the big fictional screen.”