World Cup zeal rises to fever pitch
Updated: 2014-05-31 07:46
By Sun Xiaochen (China Daily)
Fans look forward to a month of all-nighters watching games, with broadcasters going all-out to accommodate them, Sun Xiaochen reports.
Although China has never made it to World Cup finals held outside Asia in the event's 84-year history, the Chinese take pride in their fervent involvement with the global sporting extravaganza.
While the 32 squads warm up for the World Cup, which begins on June 12 in Brazil, diehard Chinese fans are excitedly preparing for the one-month soccer carnival.
Due to the time difference between China and Brazil, most of the games will kick off in the small hours, but that won't stop Chinese fans from staying tuned in overnight to watch the televised games even though most will have to work the next day.
"I don't think it (the time difference) will be an obstacle. This is the highest-level competition in the world, which comes once every four years. You can't afford to miss a single goal of the live broadcasts," said Wang Wen, chairman of the Beijing Football Fan Club.
Some even plan to adjust their daily schedules to Brazilian time for the tournament.
Wu Bin, a store clerk in Beijing and loyal fan of the host Brazil, has to take his weeklong annual vacation during the knockout stage of the Cup.
"I used to take my vacation to travel with family, but this year I'll use it all during the World Cup. I think my days and nights will turn upside-down when the knockout round starts," said the 28-year-old Hebei native.
To accommodate employees' requests, Giant Interactive Group Inc, an online games developer and operator in Shanghai, postponed regular work shifts for four hours on the last day of the World Cup in 2010.
Wang expects that more employers will adopt the policy this year because "that little favor really wins over employees".
The hugely popular World Cup always triggers a media frenzy for more readers and viewers, and the Chinese media have geared up for the tournament in Brazil even though they'll have no home team to follow.
China Central Television, the only World Cup-rights-holding broadcaster on the mainland, will have four channels, including CCTV-1 and CCTV-5, airing live games and themed programs from midnight to mid-morning. More than 100 CCTV reporters and TV crews will be sent to Brazil for up-close coverage despite the enormous logistical cost.
"We will spend whatever we have to. The scale of this year's coverage will be bigger than ever," said Jiang Heping, CCTV sports department director.
High media exposure lured lucrative advertising deals, as witnessed at the recent CCTV 2014 World Cup advertising auction.
Online shopping platform Tmall will spend 141.6 million yuan ($22.7 million) to sponsor the scorer rankings, and sportswear giant Nike will pay 46 million yuan for naming rights of a program during the event, CCTV said in a statement.
Competition for online media has grown fiercely with Chinese internet portals like Tencent and NetEase launching aggressive World Cup campaigns.
Tencent will send a 50-member reporting team to cover the event in all 12 host cities and build a media alliance with 15 Chinese news organizations. NetEase has signed an exclusive deal to be the Chinese-language official website operator of the Brazilian and Spanish national teams.
iResearch, an Internet industry consulting agency, predicts there will be 530 million Chinese Internet users following the Cup in Brazil through digital media.
The Chinese public's fervor for the quadrennial tournament was evident at a series of promotional events.
At the launch of the FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour's China leg this year, more than 500 fans packed the square at the Beijing Imperial Ancestral Temple for a close view of the prestigious trophy, and people lined up to be photographed with it.
The Beijing showcase - the second time the trophy had come to China - was the 88th stop of a 221-day, 90-country tour.
FIFA Ambassador Christian Karembeu, who participated in the Beijing event, was impressed by the Chinese fans' passion.
"To witness the love of Chinese fans for soccer and the Brazil World Cup is so inspiring. With such interest in the game, I believe China will one day make it to the final again," said the former French national team midfielder.
Despite the absence of China, World Cup-themed trips to Latin America are in demand among Chinese tourists.
China Youth Tourism Service said five groups totaling about 200 tourists had booked nine- to 12-day game-watching trips to Brazil, which previously was not a popular tourist destination for Chinese because of the long travel time and complicated visa procedures.
"There is growing market demand for World Cup tours. The limited number of qualified travel agencies that can offer packages including flights, hotel and game tickets adds to the hot demand for these trips," said Zhao Ninan, deputy director of CYTS' themed product department.
Some regular travelers might avoid trips to Latin America during the World Cup rush, but soccer fans will more than make up for them, Zhao said.
A sales rush for tourist packages to host countries of major sports events is never surprising, but the high cost of traveling to Brazil during this peak time remains a heavy burden for the average consumer, said Zhang Hui, a professor of economics and tourism at Beijing Jiaotong University.
"The flights will be fully booked early on, and the price of document processing, accommodation and transportation is expected to rise, which will further increase the cost," Zhang said in early April.
Offering game tickets from its local operators in Brazil, CYTS' two-game package including flights and accommodation costs about 100,000 yuan, almost twice as much as similar trips to the World Cup in South Africa in 2010.
"Whether it's worth the money to travel to Brazil during the World Cup is debatable, but I think there will be enough wealthy Chinese consumers who do it," Zhang said.
Zhang's view was echoed by Huang Zhen, a fan of Brazil from Xi'an who set aside 100,000 yuan for his one-week World Cup trip.
"I started to save money for Brazil last year. It's well worth the cost to be able to witness the tournament there," Huang said.
Meanwhile, related business sectors in China have seen a surge partially thanks to the Brazil World Cup.
In Yiwu, Zhejiang province, commodities related to the tournament have been shipped to the rest of the world for the past seven months or more.
The city, the world's largest marketplace for small commodities, has been exporting sports accessories worth more than $10 million every month since September, Yiwu customs office said.
Since September, Yiwu Xiangle Sports Goods Co has been busy receiving orders from overseas clients for caxirolas, a percussion instrument created by Brazilian musician Carlinhos Brown. The caxirola is Brazil's answer to the vuvuzela, the pervasive horn blown by cheering fans at the 2010 South Africa World Cup.
By the end of April, the company had sold more than 2 million caxirolas, said Yan Zhenhua, general manager.
With high demand for flags and banners for fans, manufacturers in Zhejiang have been working at full capacity.
In Hanghzou, Donghao Flag Co started taking World Cup orders last year and its fewer than 20 workers have made about 400,000 flags. The latest shipment was delivered in April, and the company won't stop production until the tournament kicks off.
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College students in Xi'an, Shannxi province, mark the 2014 FIFA World Cup, but the 32 teams won't be taking the event lying down. Provided to China Daily
A worker in Nanchang, Jiangxi province, inflates a souvenir soccer ball for the upcoming 2014 FIFA World Cup. Zhou Ke / Xinhua
A 2-meter-tall Fuleco mascot in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, in December. Li Zhong / for China Daily
A vuvuzela is blown at Yiwu International Trade City in Zhejiang in May. Lyu Bin / for China Daily
Six children were picked in Beijing to help in World Cup ceremonies in Brazil. Li Xin / Xinhua
The FIFA World Cup Trophy was on exhibition in Shanghai in April. Fan Jun / Xinhua
(China Daily 05/31/2014 page1)