Though the National Basketball Association dominates discussions of American sports on Chinese social media, other sports are making headway and it’s not just the major four, according to data compiled by Mailman Group.
Ultimate Fighting Championship has the most mentions and user engagement on Sina Weibo after the NBA. The four professional sports that are considered the primary sports leagues in the United States are the NBA, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, and the National Hockey League.
These four leagues make billions of dollars each year in revenue (with the NHL making more than $3 billion on the low end and the NFL making the most with $10 billion). The UFC, as a private company, is not required to publish its revenue figures and has opted not to. However, estimates place the organization’s revenue between $350 million and $450 million. That’s far below even the NHL, so the UFC’s popularity in China is surprising.
To be sure, the number of official franchise accounts these leagues have are modest. The UFC only has three fighter accounts on Weibo. While the UFC has the most mentions (36,685) on the site after the NBA (600,000), the NFL beats UFC on number of franchise accounts by one, still a far second place to the NBA’s 25.
The NHL has one franchise account and 977 mentions, while the MLB managed 547 mentions without any franchise accounts.
Baseball has clearly not taken off in China the way it has in Japan or Korea, which has partly been the result of players from each country getting picked up by the MLB. Even so, Yankees and Red Sox apparel are popular items in Beijing, especially hats, which can be seen adorning heads across the city.
The U.S. sport with the smallest following on Weibo is Major League Soccer, which has one account and is mentioned 378 times.
While the numbers outside the NBA are relatively small, the statistics are an interesting look at how franchises can reach out to other cultures. Mailman Group includes some recommendations on how sports franchises can build a fanbase in China:
Official accounts: Variety is the key; increase the number of player and team accounts to drive awareness around the sport.
Education: Demonstrate the background and the technical side of the sport.
Contests: Holding contests on Chinese social media platforms involves the fans, creating more engagement.
Presence: Have Chinese events, training academies, and star visits to increase on-the-ground presence.
Here is the full infographic released by Mailman Group: