Chinese-made souvenirs dominate World Cup with high quality and innovative design

By Southern Metropolis Daily - Southern Weekly Source:Global Times Published: 2018/6/21 19:18:40

Chinese companies seize sports event as opportunity to go global

Chinese-made World Cup memorabilia including trophies, jerseys and key chains occupy the market

Most were made in factories in Dongguan, South China's Guangdong Province

Chinese merchandising companies are using this opportunity to gain more publicity and bigger orders on the international stage

Employees working overtime to produce World Cup trophies in Dongguan, Guangdong Province. Photo: VCG

Factory worker Guan Shuhong is not a soccer fan, but this summer she was brought closer to the World Cup than most die-hard soccer fans simply because of her job.

Several months before the opening of the games on June 14 in Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Russia, Guan had manually dyed more than 20,000 FIFA World Cup souvenirs. According to Southern Weekly, she worked from 8 in the morning till 9 at night, one golden cup taking about four minutes.

Guan works at Weiguang Corporation, a company located in Dongguan, South China's Guangdong Province. Many FIFA World Cup souvenirs sold across the world were produced here. Dongguan was previously known as China's "sex capital" due to its proliferation of prostitution and has gone through a series of strict government crackdowns over the past couple of years.

But what people often overlook is the manufacturing capabilities and prosperity of the hundreds of factories based in the city. Even though the Chinese men's soccer team did not make it into the World Cup games this year, international markets were filled with related products that were made in China.

Behind this soccer carnival are tens of thousands of Chinese factory workers like Guan, including those who produce national flags in Yiwu, Zhejiang Province, those who package crayfish in Hubei Province, and those who produce souvenir coins in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province.

A Chinese worker manufactures footballs for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Haimen, Jiangsu Province. Photo: IC

Quantity and quality

Weiguang Corp. has been producing souvenirs for the past seven World Cups. In 1994 it started producing for traders that had received FIFA authorization. In 2010, it received FIFA authorization itself to produce and sell products in several countries. This year, Weiguang was authorized to sell in over 100 countries and regions.

The company's connection to the World Cup started at an exhibition in Hong Kong, when a trade company asked them to produce FIFA-authorized souvenirs. After gaining some experience, the company started strengthening its design and sales abilities for such souvenirs, Zhou Guo, vice general-manager of Weiguang, told Southern Metropolis Daily.

When reporters visited Weiguang factories, they found that each and every cup produced by the company goes through seven procedures, including designing, molding, polishing, electroplating, dyeing, packaging and quality testing. Some procedures, such as dyeing, are automated. There are also many designs and sizes, the largest about half the size of the real cup and the smallest the size of one's little finger.

Zhou told the Southern Metropolis Daily that the company has always been innovative about its designs, as FIFA examines every model before it goes on sale. If the cup's pedestal was circular last year, then this year the design should be different. Therefore, Weiguang's design team conducts extensive market research beforehand in order to incorporate new elements.

Another Dongguan-based company associated with the World Cup is Wenbo Gift, which has been manufacturing key chains with the designs of different team jerseys for Hangzhou Fude, which has received FIFA authorization. In mid-2017, the company began communicating with partners for design and manufacturing to expedite the process.

"Up till June, we had finished more than 10 orders, at 5,000 to 10,000 key chains per order," Liu Qinlong, director of production at Wenbo Gift, told Southern Metropolis Daily. "All of our orders had to be finished by June, otherwise the demand is gone."

Both quantity and quality are extremely important, Liu said. Clients are quite strict on the quality of the products, due to the global importance of the games. If a product looks cheap, there will be no future orders.

Wenbo jumped on the World Cup cooperation train by chance. It met Hangzhou Fude in 2012 at an exhibition in Shenzhen, Guangdong. After seeing its products, Liu felt that Wenbo could produce such memorabilia and started communicating with Fude.

The production of key chains may seem simple, but in fact it requires complicated procedures, from design to packaging. Wenbo has also updated its production line. In the past, one production line required seven people; today only two.

Back in 2011, as labor costs rose, Wenbo purchased more than one million-yuan ($154,528) worth of machinery and made the production process semi-automated. This not only increased production efficiency but also gave the company more room to develop other links, such as design or sales.

But the upgrade was not enough to secure orders for the World Cup. The company also had to go through a FIFA test. "Before joining the World Cup production line, FIFA has strict procedures, the first being an examination of the factory, evaluated from the aspects of human rights, company regulation, technology, etc.," he said.

Dongguan's Beibei Toy Factory was dragged into the World Cup. In April, the factory took an order to produce a two-meter-high mascot, the Siberian wolf "Zabivaka," since factories in Russia do not have the capability. With this emergency order, the factory halted all production of toys and pulled together more than 800 workers. Together, they made 100 two-meter-tall mascots and 1 million 30-centimeter-tall mascots - all within a month. 

A Chinese worker manufactures footballs for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Haimen, Jiangsu Province. Photo: IC

Gaining fame

Weiguang, which produces miniature FIFA World Cups, is a perfect example of how a typical local Chinese company stepped into the international arena simply by increasing its own abilities.

Zhou told media that production of the cups is only a small part of its overall business. However, through FIFA authorization, it is seizing the opportunity to increase its design and sales capabilities. This demonstrates the international market's recognition of the company brand, which can help the company open up even further, he said.

Last May, Chinese cellphone brand Vivo and FIFA jointly announced in Beijing that Vivo would be the global sponsor of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, becoming the third Chinese brand to appear during the games in Russia, after Wanda and Hisense.

The contract is worth about $100 million, along with the extra benefits Vivo receives, including official sponsor status, LED advertisements on the soccer field, media exposure, large quantity of tickets, exhibition area and fan activities.

According to estimates, about 3.6 billion people around the world are presently watching the games. As a sponsor, Vivo's name appears on every game's billboards, tickets, press releases and other sales platforms.

"With the help of the World Cup, we can send the message of 'Who we are,' 'What the brand of Vivo is,' and 'Where we want to go,'" a spokesperson for Vivo told the Southern Metropolis Daily. "But the World Cup is only a medium; the core is still our product. We have been researching how to combine products with the World Cup and our target audience and how to help them interact."

In its product designs, Vivo included features that were connected to the games. For example, a specific phone model has a personalized FIFA function that can track and update game scores in real time, set alarm clocks according to game schedule and provide live streaming sites.

The spokesperson also said that, back in 2008, Vivo might not have had the idea nor the capability to be a sponsor of the World Cup, but in recent years, Vivo's influence and own development have reached a certain level.

"With our capabilities and our target customers, FIFA has become a resource we need," the spokesperson said.

Southern Metropolis Daily - Southern Weekly

Newspaper headline: Present at World Cup

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