From May 23 – 24, Soccerex, the global leader for the business of football, concluded its two-day event in front of a packed house at the Mission Hills Haikou Movie Town in Hainan, China.

The event marked the second year in a row Soccerex came to China, building on the success of its inaugural event in Zhuhai last year.


Some of the biggest brands and individuals in the business of football were present to share their thoughts and expertise, including high-level representatives from the AFC, DDMC Fortis, Adidas, Desports, Deloitte, Bundesliga, Wanda Sports, LaLiga, Mailman, FC Barcelona, City Football Group, ByteDance, AS Roma, EA Sports, AFC Ajax, and football legends such as Juliano Belletti, Dario Conca, and Jean-Pierre Papin.


Over the course of the event, industry leaders took part in 20 hours of networking, with extensive media coverage through major outlets such as CCTV, People’s Sport, Xinhua News Agency, Hupu Sports, PP Sports and through popular social media channels such as Dario Conca’s Weibo.


Over 1000 delegates were present across the two days of the event, with 62% of the attendees C-Level or above. There was 61 Speakers, 15 Panels, and 8 Presentations (equating to more than 15 hours of expert content). More than 45 countries represented were at the event and 42 companies exhibited.


Ever since Chinese President Xi Jinping announced the government’s 50-point reform plan to turn China into a ‘Soccer Superpower’, there has been a noticeable growth of activity and investment in all areas of football in the world’s most populous country.


Soccerex, for the second year in a row, has put itself at the heart of this industry through its world-leading event to help connect the decision makers with the game-changers.


Throughout the event, there were a number of stand-out panels and keynotes which touched upon the key issues and trends currently influencing and driving China’s football industry.


Key Highlights:


Day 1, Opening Ceremony:
At the Opening Ceremony, Joe DaGrosa, Soccerex Chairman, Cai Yong, Executive Committee Member of the Chinese Football Association (recorded video), and Karen Maddocks, Consul General – Guangzhou, UK Department of International Trade, addressed the distinguished guests, delegates, and media.


Joe DaGrosa, Chairman, Soccerex: It’s my honour and pleasure to welcome you to Soccerex China. We’re very pleased to be part of China’s soccer community. We’re here to bring people together, bridge cross cultural divides and to make new friends. It’s our desire at Soccerex to bring everyone together.”


Cai Yong, Executive Committee Member, Chinese Football Association: “In recent years, the Chinese Football Association has continuously strengthened its further communication and actively cooperated with FIFA and UEFA.


“The Association welcomes Soccerex to come to China again to help us to build a healthier, diverse and sustainable Chinese football industry. I hope that all the delegates here can feel free to exchange their ideas and form more consensus.”


Karen Maddocks, Consul General – Guangzhou, UK Department of International Trade, said: “Soccerex, from the UK, came to China, the hometown of football. This is a wonderful collision between Chinese and English culture.


“The cooperation of football can bring China-UK relations even closer. I hope that all participants will have more opportunities to communicate with others in these two days, and more cooperation will be established in the future.”


Peak Performance:
At a session focusing on Achieving Peak Performance, experts in nutrition, technical analysis and coaching provided insights into key components of peak performance in football.


Daniel Stenz, Technical Director at Shandong Luneng Taishan FC: “Data still has not reached the ceiling in terms of enhancing player performance, there’s still a long way to go.”


Marie Farag, Nutritionist at Totum Sport: “Repair and recovery are not the same thing. Repair is short term and happening all the time, recovery is long term.”


Importance of Commercial Rights to China’s Sports Economy:
On a panel discussing the Importance of Commercial Rights to China’s Sports Economy, industry experts discussed the valuation, activation and maximization of sponsorship, broadcast and image rights in China.

Lowis Chun Liu, Vice President and General Manager of Sales and Marketing Center, Wanda Sports, said: “There’s huge potential for collaboration between Wanda and FIFA to promote football throughout China. The big Idea behind the recent Dalian investment is to encourage young people to play football.”

Zeng Gang, Executive Vice President, PP Sports, added: The media’s advertising transformation is based on the retail system. The next step is to expand the retail sector to make it more open and flexible, and to make the advertising process smoother. In the process of football competitions, the audience rarely produces the action of ordering.


“In the past, many of the broadcasts of football media were in the form of TV media. At present, we are testing the digital multi-screen form on the mobile, resulting in possible instant conversion.”


Patrick Murphy, CEO of DDMC Fortis: “China is at the center of Asia football development and we want to be part of that. We have a great relationship with CCTV which will continue, and we’ll be offering rights to our partners currently in market, and we’ll also be sure to make available to other platforms too. We’ll be working very closely with our sister company Super Sports.”


European Leagues & Clubs in China:
In the afternoon, delegates were treated to presentations from senior representatives from two of Europe’s biggest leagues – Bundesliga and LaLiga – before FC Barcelona and City Football Group spoke about their differing approaches to the Chinese market. 

Bundesliga Presentation:
Following the launch of their new China office, Patrick Stüber, Head of China, Bundesliga International outlined the league’s plans in market and explained their strategy for making the Bundesliga the number one European Football League in China.

Patrick Stüber, Head of China for Bundesliga, said: “The next challenge for our clubs is to find the next Chinese player to make it to their team – we know it’s just a question of time.

“Last year the Bundesliga invested €1.6 billion into youth academies. The investment took its time but it’s an investment that we now continuously benefit from. Our key goal is to become the most popular European football league in China.

“We have 6 clubs on the ground in China which is completely unique. There’s a willingness to do things together. There’s proof we’re doing things together and clubs are coming to China.” 

LaLiga Presentation:
Sara Yian Zhu, LaLiga, Global Delegate Network talked about how the arrival of Wu Lei to LaLiga’s side, RCD Espanyol has brought massive attention to the Chinese owned club.


Wu Lei made history by becoming the first Chinese player to score a goal at LaLiga, impressing equally Chinese and Spanish fans. His impact extends beyond the hearts of his fans, and since Wu Lei joined RCD Espanyol, LaLiga has leveraged the “Wu Lei Effect” to increase the visibility of LaLiga materializing it in an increase in audiences, digital following, and media attention.


Sara Yian Zhu, LaLiga, Global Delegate Network: “The best Chinese player joined the best league in the world, becoming one of the most talked about transfers around the world.


“90% of LaLiga’s followers’ growth in China came this year came after the Wu Lei signing.


Clubs in China:
Through a series of interviews and presentations, elite European clubs share their insights into their Chinese and wider Asian market strategies; how they seek to build, engage and ultimately monetise their fan bases there.


FC Barcelona:

Jordi Camps, Barcelona Managing Director – APAC, said: “40% of the club’s partnership revenue comes from Asia.


“We try to bring a piece of Barcelona into China. We currently have 6 Barcelona academies in China with 15,000 kids trained by Barcelona coaches.


“Fan engagement is a big pillar of Barcelona in China, and the Barcelona experience center is the first experience center outside of Spain.


“The methodology we use in China with the kids is the same we use with our first team in Barcelona. Obviously with a different standard, but the principles are the same.


“China will without a doubt become one of the biggest and most important countries in the global football industry.”


City Football Group:

Scott Munn, City Football Group China, CEO, added: “The most important thing we do is work as a global business which operates locally. The Shanghai office runs well because we have an experienced local team on the ground.


“Digital channels change so quickly in China, so we need to be flexible.


“In China, the athletes make a massive difference, they are very appealing to the younger community.


“Supporting who your father told you to support is no longer the case, the 5-8 year olds make the decision.

“Our chairman has made it a goal we’re here regularly. We currently have 17 official supporters’ clubs, and it should be 20 by the time the team comes out here this summer.”


There were other insightful panels throughout the day focusing on Investing in the Future of China’s Football, Improving Governance and Financial Management, China’s Sponsorship of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, and the Future of Football Media.


Day 2:

Day 2 of Soccerex China 2019 kicked off with high-level discussions talking about Mastering China’s Digital Landscape and the Digital Transformation of Football. Expert speakers delivered their messages and insights from world-renowned brands and organisations including adidas, ByteDance, AS Roma,, EA Sports, and City Football Group.


Key Highlights:
The morning session included a series of interviews and discussions showcasing successful case studies, exploring what is required to master China’s digital terrain and how best to utilise the tools available to connect with Chinese fans.


Mastering China’s Digital Landscape:
With its vast population and expanding middle class, China represents a huge opportunity for international rights holders and brands looking to engage with potential fans.


However, given the importance of digital and social channels in engaging with these fans, China’s digital landscape presents a number of significant nuances and challenges, beyond that of language, which organisations need to successfully navigate.


ByteDance, Adidas, AS Roma and Mesut Ozil’s agent discussed what is required to master China’s digital terrain and how best to utilise the tools available to connect with Chinese fans.


Dr Erkut Sögüt LL.M., Football Agent Education, Agent – Mesut Ozil: “We started communicating with Mesut Ozil’s fan clubs in China, sending them gifts, products etc. It was our first step to connect with his fans in China.


“China is a great opportunity for football players.”


Rio Li, ByteDance, Senior Manager of Sports Business Development: “We started in 2017 getting internationals brands and leagues on board. We define ourselves as a tech company.


“Follower numbers are not that important. The algorithm is key and we can use it to recommend content.”


Paul Rogers, AS Roma, Head of Digital Media, said: “We achieved engagement not through money, because we don’t have as much as Arsenal, Manchester United etc. we set out to be different and original. We were quite brave.


“We created our own voice, a more personal style of approach. When social media started is was about people, not brands. But when brands came on board they took it over.


“We stopped looking at other clubs and started to look at Netflix, Wendy’s, Burger King, and so on – outside of football. All platforms have a different type of language, and we tapped into how people were communicating.


“Put yourself in the shoes of the fan and think fan-first.”


“How do we help our audiences to make money, because if they make money, then we’ll make money. It adds value to the whole ecosystem, which maybe competitors aren’t doing.”


David Yang, adidas, Senior Manager – Assets Publishing, said: “We’ve launched a number of football online in China, including the popular Paul Pogba. We saw his Weibo account grow to over 4 million in only a year.


“We started operating profile accounts on social in China because we realised a number of our athletes weren’t active there.”


Esports & Football:

There was an interesting session where experts from esports and football worlds will come together to look at the opportunities and threats within the burgeoning relationship between the two sports.


Edward Chang, EA Sports, Director of Business Strategy – Competitive Gaming Division: “We believe we can get more people into the game, and when we do, they spend longer and spend more in the game. Our competitive players spend 7x more than the average FIFA player.


“Football is the world’s game and virtual football is on its way. By connecting the real world and digital football, we have the opportunity to provide a meaningful narrative to the next generation.


“Because of the game we’ve probably created a lot of real world football fans.


“I don’t think it really matters whether we call FIFA ‘esports’ or not.


“Esports is digital first. These fans are young. Many of them have never subscribed to linear television.


Scott Munn, City Football Group China, CEO: “Over 1/3 of US fans, their first engagement with football is with FIFA gaming.


“There’s a large part of the traditional football community who don’t treat it (esports/FIFA) seriously.”


Xuan Li, LGD Gaming, Chief Strategy Officer: “I try to play League of Legends every week.


“From an Esports perspective, there is a lot to learn from a (traditional) soccer team; especially how to commercialise it and give a better experience to the fans.”


How to produce talent:
In the afternoon, there was a mix of international and regional experts analysing the core components of a successful grassroots set up, how they can be implemented in China and how the different stakeholders involved can best deliver the necessary level of coach education to foster the talent needed to ensure China achieves its footballing aims.


Corné Groenendijk, AFC Ajax, Manager Ajax Coaching Academy: “We have 7 staff members working in China on a full-time basis.


“We’re all in the same position, we all have to adapt. China has a very strong culture and a very strong country.


“Our biggest struggle is to find talent at a young age, it’s the same all across the world.”


Marius Lorenz, Borussia Dortmund, Sporting Coordinator China: “We want to coach the local coaches so they can spread the BVB philosophy, but we also listen to their philosophy to find a balance.


“The main part of the role is instant feedback. It’s not about copy and paste simple exercises, we need to adapt and react.”


Carlos Casal, LaLiga, Senior Specialist in Sport Projects Development: “We have many programmes with the CFA and ministry of educations. The approach we need to show is that football is very complex. There’s needs to be research and study.


“Football development is mostly based on the clubs. Its present in schools, but it happens mostly at club level in Spain. But in China, it needs to start in school to help the football development system.”


Jean-Pierre Papin, Former International, France: “Football is a privilege, and to play every day is to have fun. You never know if you will succeed in the future so you need to enjoy it while you can.


“Both football at school and at club are very important.”


The Player’s Perspective:
Football legends Juliano Belletti and Dario Conca wrapped up the event by speaking on a panel discussing Modern Football – The Players Perspective – discussing everything from the impact of social media and digital technologies on and off the pitch to tournament expansion to the possibility of new competitions. It was the ideal way to end a fantastic 2 days in Hainan, China.


Juliano Belletti, Brazil, Former International: “I think a lot of players from Brazil are willing to come and play in China.


“China continues to learn from western football and we feel proud that we can help the global game. There are always responsibilities, especially for the players who come to play in China. 


“If you are a professional football player, you have to be very careful what you post online.”


Dario Conca, Guangzhou Evergrande and Shanghai SIPG, Former Player, said: “Chinese football has achieved great progress and the national team has good players. They are in the right direction. There’s no doubt China will become a strong football nation.


“I was very happy to have played in China and to have witnessed the growth of Chinese football.


“The experience I had in China was very important to my career.


“I knew living in China wasn’t going to be easy. I looked forward to overcoming the challenges. The Chinese people were very hospitable and made me feel at home.”


It’s clear to see China remains an important and growing market for the sport of football. The China football ecosystem continues to mature as technology and infrastructure develops rapidly and more international experts offer and receive high-level collaborations and partnerships with their Chinese counterparts.


Soccerex China 2019 provided a platform for the industry’s best and brightest to share experiences and thoughts on the future and Soccerex Managing Director, Phil Gegan confirmed a long-term commitment to support the growth of the football industry in China.


He said: “This is such an exciting time for football in China, with growing levels of interest, government support and tournaments such as the 2023 AFC Asian Cup – and possibly even the FIFA World Cup – set to be held here in the coming years.


“Soccerex is committed to working with our partners at the Asian Football Federation, the Chinese Football Association and the Chinese Super League in the long term to help the game of football grow in China and to help the industry reach its potential.


“We’d like to thank all our partners, supporters, delegates, and media for making Soccerex China 2019 a success, and we can’t wait to return again next year. Thank you!”