During this week’s dramatic England and Germany Euro 2020 football match, everyone’s eyes were on the ball, including mine.
However, a Chinese super-brand logo emerged practically every time I saw a sponsored brand on the digital billboards that stretch the length of the pitch at Wembley.
There was only one Chinese sponsor at the last competition, which took place in 2016, and that was the TV manufacturer Hisense.
This time, TikTok, Vivo, and Alipay have joined HiSense on the billboards.
There are no counterparts in the United States; for example, neither Facebook, Google, Amazon, nor Apple appear on the official “partners” list.
“However, as do the businesses who join our commercial program,” it noted, “we do look to reach a global audience.”
TikTok has partnered with UEFA for this tournament exclusively and has poured a lot of promotional weight behind it on its platform, including branded augmented reality effects, TikTok lifestyles, and hashtag challenges.
For the occasion, Uefa created its own official tournament account, which was followed by 4.2 million people.
Alipay, a Chinese payment network, has partnered with Antchain, a blockchain company. Both are part of the Ant Group, a tech behemoth.
A blockchain is a type of digital ledger that is stored on several different computers, making it more difficult to alter or falsify records. It is most typically used to log virtual currency transactions, although it can also be used to store other data.
In some places, you won’t be able to use Alipay unless you have a Chinese ID. Despite this, Antchain signed a five-year sponsorship contract with UEFA last month, despite Alipay already having an eight-year arrangement in place.
Alipay is now awarding a prize to the game’s highest scorer, with all of the scores being logged on Antchain.
A hashtag symbol on the base of the trophy “underlines AntChain’s commitment to ensuring a permanent, incorruptible record of the top scorer’s performances with blockchain technology,” according to the official statement from UEFA.
Which is marketing jargon meaning, well, not much. So, what does this mean for these companies?
HiSense did record an increase in sales after its sponsorship of the 2016 competition, according to ShuShu Chen, a specialist in sport policy and management at the University of Birmingham.
It’s also no surprise that China’s President Xi Jinping is a major football fan, and with the government’s inspection and regulation of the country’s internet companies growing, it might be regarded as a clever PR move to be visible in support of the beautiful game.
Matt Bailey, a senior advertising analyst at Media, says that they are “feeling the squeeze” in their home market.
He cites the “explosion” of TikTok in 2020 as an example of how Europe is becoming a more crucial market for Chinese enterprises.