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Kicking off peak show of Chinese soccer brand

By Chen Meiling in Beijing and Yang Jun in Guiyang ( China Daily )

Updated: 2017-07-17

Chairwoman Wen Xiaoting, 27, molds Guizhou HFZC in her own image

For Wen Xiaoting, 27, a former fashion magazine editor, soccer club Guizhou Hengfeng Zhicheng is a brand-building opportunity.

Until Xiaoting's father, Wen Wei, picked up a 66 percent stake in the club in 2015 for an undisclosed amount, Guizhou HFZC was not a force to reckon with.

Not any more. As chairwoman of the club, Wen Xiaoting adopted a hands-on approach. All-round reforms kicked in with well-defined goals, often leading to spectacular results.

 Kicking off peak show of Chinese soccer brand

Wen Xiaoting, chairwoman of the soccer club Guizhou Hengfeng Zhicheng, explains her brand promotion idea during chat with three German Channel 2 television staff in a soccer stadium in Guizhou province. Yang Jun / For China Daily

For instance, for the first time in its history, Guizhou HFZC got promoted from second-tier China League One to top-tier Super League this year.

"When the club got officially registered in early 2016, we set the goal to enter the Chinese Super League in three years. And we made it the first year," she said.

The team appears to be coasting on the momentum of seven straight wins in the China League One last year.

In May, she hired Spanish football coach Gregorio Manzano, 61, and fired his predecessor Li Bin, a former national football team member, as chief coach.

After Manzano took charge, Guizhou HFZC won three matches in the Super League. After 15 matches, it now ranks eleventh in this year's table.

But Wen Xiaoting believes both on-and off-field brilliance is key to a sports club's long-term success.

"The promotion of a football team is similar to that of a fashion brand in that they both need to be known and accepted by the market. That can be achieved by packaging the entire operation," said Wen Xiaoting.

Packaged and publicized as a symbol of youth, energy and hope, Guizhou HFZC has gone from strength to strength, both on and off the field, leaving a trail of marketing, branding and management success that is new in China's sports industry.

To start with, the Guiyang Olympic Sports Center, the club's home stadium, received a makeover with its capacity expanding to 52,000 seats.

Wen Xiaoting believes cultural constructs around the club are key to sustainable development.

Kicking off peak show of Chinese soccer brand

"I've spent years in the UK and learnt the football culture in that country. Many of the English Premier League clubs have more than 100 years of history. Whether or not people keep caring about the football club - well, that lays the foundation for development."

So, she tried several ways to keep people engrossed in the club's progress last year.

For one, cooperation agreements with media were forged to broadcast news, information and other forms of content about the club. For another, automobiles and radio became publicity vehicles. Advertisements at strategic locations like airports and host grounds created brand awareness.

That's not all. Twice a month, fans of Guizhou HFZC were invited to the home stadium. When the games ended, Wen would show up with the club's mascot.

In May 2016, a contest was held for fans to write the team song. The winner was awarded 10,000 yuan ($1,477).

The same year, the club has designed its team jersey for the fans. Earlier this year, she hired anchors to broadcast the team's games live.

"By constructing football culture, I expect to make more locals watch a weekend game, whether they love football or not," she said. "What I'm doing is attract more fans to the ground. With crowd support, players will feel encouraged to play to their full potential."

She also rationalized spends on players and expenses. "There is no superstar in our team. The salaries of club members are similar to that of other China League One clubs. The highest annual salary was several million yuan," she said. "We didn't pay tens of millions of yuan to hire players like others did."

For all of Wen Xiaoting's relentless efforts, Guizhou HFZC is yet to ring in profits.

About 200 million yuan were spent on operations last year, which included players' wages, bonus, brand promotion bills and routine expenses.

The club earned only 10 percent of that, mainly from in-stadium advertisements and sales of team-themed merchandise like apparel, footwear, accessories, she said.

"Receipts from ticket sales were low. Most of the tickets were given away free of cost to the fans, particularly primary and middle school students."

In China, owning a football club is more of a hobby and nonprofit activity than business, she said. Many Chinese football clubs exist because of their supporters' enthusiasm.

But Guizhou HFZC wouldn't burn money blindly, she said.

That nous comes from family background. Her father heads China Guizhou Hengfeng Real Estate Development Co Ltd, which focuses on the sale, rent and property management of high-end commercial real estate.

She graduated from the University for the Creative Arts in the United Kingdom before joining Harper's Bazaar China, a fashion magazine, in 2011.

(China Daily 07/17/2017 page16)

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