Megastars’ trips benefit from, boost Chinese soccer potential
Published: Dec 25, 2023 11:51 PM
Illustration: Liu Xiangya/Global Times

Illustration: Liu Xiangya/Global Times

World soccer megastars Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo will lead their respective club teams on a visit to China at the beginning of 2024, a move rarely seen in the global soccer landscape. 

In South China's Shenzhen, five-time Ballon d'Or winner Ronaldo will lead his club Al Nassr of Saudi Arabia to play Chinese Super League (CSL) club Shanghai Shenhua on January 24, 2024, before meeting CSL team Zhejiang on January 28. 

Meanwhile, Messi will take David Beckham co-owned Inter Miami to play against the Hong Kong All-Star team on February 4, 2024. But before the game in Hong Kong, Inter Miami's preseason plans include participation in the Riyadh Super Cup, meaning Messi, the most decorated soccer player with eight Ballon d'Or awards under his belt, will again share a pitch with his long-time rival Ronaldo.

Those high-profile clubs' preseason schedules are tight, as the clubs want to use the off-season period to increase their presence and generate income. 

Ronaldo and Messi, well into the twilight of their illustrious careers, have bid adieu to the European soccer mainstream, seeking new horizons elsewhere. 

While their competitive edge may slightly wane with the inevitable passage of time, the commercial appeal of these soccer juggernauts remains as potent as ever.

Their decision to choose China for these matches during the precious off-season underscores a captivating truth - the enduring magnetic pull of the Chinese soccer market.

Representing Argentina, Messi had played a friendly against Australia at the Workers' Stadium in Beijing in June 2023, when the streets to the iconic arena were flooded by fans wearing the blue-and-white Argentina jersey, most of them having a No.10 on their back.

The international friendly's huge success, though fans bemoaned the sky-high ticket prices, has fueled another plan to stage games involving Messi in China. 

However, due to procedural reasons, the two matches in November in China did not commence as planned. 

Tickets for the matches and pre-game public training sessions of Inter Miami went on sale on December 15, and to the astonishment of many, all 40,000 tickets completely sold out within an hour. 

It's worth noting that the match involving Hong Kong against Inter Miami is no budget affair, with tickets priced between HK$880 and HK$4,880 ($110 to $625). Even the public training sessions of Inter Miami have not been spared, with tickets ranging from HK$580 to HK$880.

Ronaldo's journey to China is no less spectacular, and the ticket prices for his matches reflect the anticipation surrounding his presence. Officially announced ticket prices range from 380 yuan to 4,580 yuan ($53 to $641), with an average hovering around 2,500 yuan. 

The presale of Al Nassr's games in Shenzhen was made available on the afternoon of December 25, with fans who missed out on a ticket complaining the tickets sold out "in a second." 

The clubs' preseason games in China are not merely an exercise in sporting spectacle but a strategic business decision. 

This choice speaks volumes about the continued allure of the Chinese market, a testament to its unwavering attractiveness even in the face of competing offers from other lucrative regions.

The strategic choice of China for preseason friendly matches also speaks to the global vision of soccer as a unifying force. In an era where sports transcend geographical boundaries, these matches become symbolic bridges, connecting cultures and fostering a shared appreciation for this amazing sport. The decision to stage these fixtures in China is a testament to the country's growing influence in the global soccer landscape.

What drives this unwavering fascination with Ronaldo and Messi in the Chinese market? Beyond their on-field exploits, these soccer icons have become global brands, transcending the realm of sports to become cultural phenomena. 

Their appeal goes beyond borders, resonating with fans across continents. In China, where soccer has witnessed exponential growth in popularity though the Chinese national team remains underachieving, the arrival of Ronaldo and Messi is not just a sporting event - it's a cultural moment.

From a business perspective, the influx of fans from the mainland to Hong Kong underscores the burgeoning purchasing power of Chinese sports fans. The fact that fans are willing to pay a premium to witness these matches reflects the evolving dynamics of the Chinese soccer market. It's not just about the game, it's about the experience and the global spectacle that soccer has become.

Ronaldo and Messi gear up for their voyage to China. It's more than just a soccer spectacle - it's a convergence of cultures, a celebration of global fandom and a testament to the enduring allure of the Chinese soccer market. 

The author is a reporter with the Global Times.