Keeping Chinese fans loyal to one particular soccer team seems to be no easy task, with a new report highlighting the country's "icon market" and how supporters are more likely to stick with individual players more than just the teams they play for.
According to the 2019 edition of the Red Card report produced by Mailman, China's leading sports digital marketing agency, Cristiano Ronaldo is the number one player online among Chinese people, ahead of Paris Saint Germain's Neymar Jr and last year's leader Lionel Messi.
The knock-on effect of Ronaldo's 100 million euro ($114 million) transfer to Juventus last summer has though seen a surge of interest in the Italian team. Its numbers on social media in China increased by over 126,000 following the move, with content focused on the player showing to be 280 percent more engaged in.
Indications also show that Chinese soccer fans engage mostly with individuals through their national teams rather than club sides. Paul Pogba and Mesut Ozil are the most followed players in China, of players playing in England. Both of whom helped their countries to win the FIFA World Cup in 2018 with France and in 2014 with Germany, respectively.
"China's fan behavior is unique to the West with Chinese often following a player over a club. This can also result in fans following multiple teams where the player has transferred from. In the FIFA World Cup year, we saw around 95 percent of footballers total social follower growth happening post tournament," Tom Elsden, Mailman's senior client manager told CNBC.