An outlet of Oppo's 5G smartphones in Changzhou, Jiangsu province. CHINA DAILY
Chinese smartphone companies are tapping into the zeal for soccer to better resonate with global consumers, as they step up their push to explore overseas markets in efforts to revive the smartphone sector that has been mired in a sales slump amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The moves are part of Chinese smartphone makers' broader plans to build up brand awareness abroad by sponsoring global sporting events, and more efforts are needed to help translate such big-ticket market spending into concrete sales growth figures, experts said.
Ni Xudong, senior vice-president and chief marketing officer of Vivo, which is the official smartphone sponsor of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, said: "Soccer has the power to bring people together. Innovation can help soccer fans build a community and share exciting World Cup experiences with everyone across the globe, whether they are watching the games at a stadium or enjoying the experience from afar."
Vivo signed a six-year sponsorship agreement with FIFA in 2017, and the event in Qatar is the second World Cup Vivo has sponsored after having done so at the FIFA Confederations Cup 2017, the FIFA World Cup Russia 2018 and the FIFA Arab Cup Qatar 2021.
Vivo is not alone. Chinese peer Oppo is also showing mounting enthusiasm toward sponsoring soccer competitions. The company has inked a two-year partnership with UEFA, or the Union of European Football Associations, across different competitions such as the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Super Cup during the 2022-23 and 2023-24 seasons.
Huawei and Honor, two other Chinese smartphone vendors, have also partnered with soccer stars for marketing, or once sponsored soccer teams.
Song Xiangqing, vice-president of the Beijing-based Commerce Economy Association of China, said that even though it costs quite a bit to be a sponsor, connecting with events such as the World Cup is the most direct way for Chinese companies to promote their brands and sell products in the global market.
Vivo said that since sponsoring the World Cup in 2018, it has successively entered 10 European country markets. With the help of sponsoring UEFA's competition in 2020, its share in the European market more than doubled last year.
These efforts have played a crucial role in its globalization process, Vivo said, adding that it has provided products and services to more than 400 million users in more than 60 countries and regions around the world.
The growing emphasis on establishing an overseas presence comes as the domestic smartphone market has been declining for 18 months, according to research firm Counterpoint. Though the sales volume of China's smartphone market in the third quarter rose 5 percent quarter-on-quarter, it still fell by about 12 percent year-on-year.
Guo Tianxiang, a senior analyst of market research company IDC China, said amid the global economic downturn, the overseas smartphone market is also at a low point. But it will have more growth potential and rebound faster than the domestic market. That is especially so in emerging countries and regions, such as Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa.
Sponsoring sporting events is an efficient way to crack a market, but efforts in product quality and development are also needed to really appeal to consumers in a specific country, experts added.