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An authentic Italian cuisine in a Chinese plate

Thanks to my friend working in the game-operating company for the 2011 Italia Supercoppa, I became one of 70,000 lucky fans in the giant Beijing National Stadium last night witnessing this authentic european soccer game. As I mentioned in a previous article, the Milan Derby no doubt attarcted millions of the advocates of both teams, and consequently turned out to be the most successful preseason commercial soccer game hosted abroad. 

Authenticity and the rivalry are the main selling points of this game. Unlike other commercial games between big-time clubs and local teams in the destination countries during pre-season, Italia Supercoppa is the official game under the administration of the Italian Football Federation. The federation paid extreme attention to the grass situation of the Beijing National Stadium, which explains how important they perceive the game. Though other prestigious teams such as Liverpool, Arsenal and Real Madrid are also trying to explore China market this summer, they are easily dwarfed by the two Italian clubs, in terms of the media influence and the revenue from the game. AC Milan, with a heart-stirring comeback 2-1 win, is believed to receive over 10 million Euros from the game operating company, United Vansen Sports. Besides, it is rare that one of the fiercest rivalry in club soccer history can take place in a foreign country. The hostility between two of the largest soccer fan groups in China well guaranteed the high attendance rate and the tense atmosphone in the stadium.

Even so, people still doubt the game quality before the match because of  the inadequate adaptive trainings in China, and the tight schedule of attending numbers of commercial activities for both teams. Yet all these concerns ceased when two teams ran out from the aisles with strong desire for winning the trophy. The 90 minutes included so many exciting elements: Wesley Sneijder’s beautiful freekick, tackles and quarrells raised by tough midfielder Gattuso, Ibrahimovic’s outstanding performance facing his ex-employer, and a solid comeback of AC Milan with strong Sub-in of Alexandra Pato.

If we conclude the game quality reached the way it should be, then the passionate performance of Chinese fans in Birds’ Nest last night must be greatly beyond the teams’ expectation. When I arrived there two hours prior to the game, the Inter fans from all over the country have filled the north stand of the stadium while the Milan fans filled the opposite south one. The giant Inter team jersey was spread out by hundreds of die-hard fans, while they kept chanting team slogan without feeling tired. The fans’ passion had been also demonstrated off the field in the previous week, that thousands of fans of both teams followed the teams’ schedule from welcoming their beloved players in the airport. The great fandom in China also influenced the athletes. Sneijder said he want to win the trophy for the supportive fans in the pregame press conference. “Prince” Boateng used a Chinese Kung-fu move to celebrate his scoring the 3rd goal of the game, in tribute of the passionate Chinese fan creating such a great arena.

Aftermath:

United Vansen’s effort enabled Chinese fans to enjoy this authentic “Italian cuisine” at home. However, from a sport management person’s perspective, I believe a better game experience could be built up by more professional game operation. There are so many aspects the game could be improved. Firstly, the stadium did not serve the functions demanded by such a soccer game. I was surprised by how small the two LED screens are in this stadium with 80,000 capacity. Then it did piss me off after kickoff when the screen showed only the logos of the teams and the current scores. No lineup list, no player statistics, no replay, and even no current playing time. And as a multi-functional stadium, fans cannot enjoy the tremendous sideline views provided by soccer-specific stadium. The circle of LED signage on the field could even block the views from the front rows. The audio operations in stadium was a joke. Two MCs were there boosting the atmosphere, and, notified the DJ to turn up the volume of the music…so hilarious. You can also see the “2008 Beijing” signage on the four corner entrance of the stadium, revealing the ironical fact that the post-Olympic usage of the stadium remains a huge problem.

Besides, I want to criticize on the game operators all for good reasons. With experience hosting 2009 Italia Supercoppa, United Vansen has its edge to deliver a nice event. However, from both public and inside information, the organizing activities prior to the game seemed very chaotic in areas such as sponsorship plan and public relations. The contract with title sponsor in China, Huawei, was signed around one month before the game. Huawei was even not well notified about the industry category of TIM, the title sponsor of both Serie A and Supercoppa from Italy. Since TIM is also a high-tech and telecommunication company, the exclusivity issue required the signage of Huawei’s Cloud Phone in the stadium cannot be displayed in English. The sponsorship activation of Huawei is such a failure in my eyes, yet this is another story.

No PR department actually exists on the organizational chart of United Vansen. On several issues the company could do better with the help of PR. 1, An AC Milan fan died on his way to Beijing in a traffic accident, while United Vansen did not respond at all. 2, Siyuan Dong, the head of the media and promotion department quarelled with a female journalist during a phone call and was reported humiliate the journalist with some “serious trashtalk”. No matter whether this  is the truth, United Vansen was too busy to give some PR intervention, while Dong had to argue against all the negative rumors on Weibo all by himself. This is not the way a matured sport organiztion respond to PR crisis. 3,  Dong’s event was the result of the chaotic distribution of the reporting permits. United Vansen did not well deal with the complicated relationships with various media organizations, both domestic and foreign ones.

I cannot blame more on the company since I am just an outside observer without experiencing the tough game-operation. They did great jobs in general, and people should have confidence in the coming Supercoppa games in 2012 and 2013 (still in Beijing). However, lots could  be improved for United Vansen with more professional specialists and a more fans-focused mentality. When you think more about the fan experience and less on counting your profit, you may ultimately earn more profit. The authentic Italian cuisine is always great stuff, but our fans deserve a more decent plate next time.

Further reading:

http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/cndy/2011-08/06/content_13061726.htm

http://epaper.dfdaily.com/dfzb/html/2011-08/06/content_514376.htm

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Categories: BLOG, Blog in English
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