Football Fans’ Perception of UK Football Clubs and Social Media Marketing Strategies in China

Topic: FOOTBALL FANS’ PERCEPTION OF UK FOOTBALL CLUBS AND SOCIAL MEDIA MARKETING STRATEGIES IN CHINA

 

1.0.Chapter One: Introduction

 

1.1.Background

Football is a sport and industry that has global appeal. With increased coverage of European leagues in particular, and the widespread use of social media, football clubs and players can cultivate worldwide fan bases, totaling millions (Kennedy and Kennedy, 2012, p. 329). One noticeable trend has been the development of football participation and spectatorship in Asian countries. Through broadcast deals to air English Premier League matches (amongst other leagues) and pre-season tours in Asia, football clubs have been able to increase brand awareness and loyalty, as well as revenues (Bodet and Chanavat, 2010). English football clubs in particular have sought to exploit the opportunities in Asia with vast investment in branding and marketing activities (Da Silva and Las Casas, 2017). For example, Manchester United have opened many club shops internationally (Leng, 2015, p.107) and developed sponsorship partnerships with more ‘localised’ brands and celebrities (Cohen, 2018). Furthermore, many clubs have utilized social media, in particular Weibo and WeChat, to communicate with fans. According to data from the Red Card, cited in Wilson (2018), Manchester United is the leading football club in China with the highest online following of over 107 million fans (Wilson 2018).  This demonstrates the increasing importance of using online-based platforms to engage fans and supporters in China …. ….. ……

China seems to be a major focus for English football clubs with an increasing interest on investment opportunities in the clubs. For example, a Chinese billionaire, Gao Jisheng, spent over £210m on Southampton’s 80% stake (Williams, 2017), representing the increasing importance of the EPL to Chinese football fans. But despite the growth of football spectatorship and fandom in China, little is known about Chinese football fans. Chinese consumers tend to be fairly brand loyal and can show a real commitment to brands in attitudinal and behavioural terms (Lu and Xu, 2015). Understanding Chinese football fans’ current brand awareness and knowledge of the English Premier League could yield interesting insights for clubs looking to grow their fan bases. Moreover, understanding how Chinese fans engage and communicate with the geographically distant English clubs using social media could reveal preferences which hold implications for future development of their social media strategies.  This study explores this phenomenon to explicate the effectiveness of marketing strategies from the perspective of Chinese fans and supporters.

1.2.Research Aim and Objectives

This study therefore aims to explore Chinese football fandom and engagement with English Premier League clubs on social media. More specifically, the research objectives are:

 

 

  • Dissertation structure

This dissertation will be structure as follows: Chapter 2 will explore a review of literature from the brand management and provide the nature of brand equity in the context of prior works. The literature review chapter also examines the use of social media as a marketing strategy in football, particularly the English Premier League. This chapter seeks to identify literature gaps that are addressed in the subsequent chapters. Chapter 3describes the methods and design used in the collection of primary and secondary data, measurements and analysis of data. The chapter also explains the justification for the choice of the research design and methods.  Chapter 4 provides the analysis and findings from the primary data gathered from the survey. This chapter also presents the findings through graphical means such as charts and frequency distribution tables. Chapter 5 provides a discussion of the findings and conclusions, to provide significant and unique insights into the research audience. Based on the outcomes of the research, this chapter provides implications to the marketing strategy for English Football Clubs, as well as suggestions for further studies.

2.0. Chapter Two: Literature Review

 

  • Introduction

This chapter firstly provides a discussion of literature around brand management and social media marketing. This provides the theoretical background to understand some of the marketing strategies and activities employed by football clubs in a general sense. Latter, this chapter will focus specifically on football clubs and in particular the English Premier League, examining the limited literature on how football clubs utilise social media in their marketing strategy to engage with Chinese fans.

2.2.Brand management

When managing a brand, the concept of brand equity is often considered. Brand equity is defined as the value that a company generates to customers from a product or service, relative to other generic comparable products or services (Westberg and Pope, 2014). Brand equity creates added value to help companies create strong brand capabilities (Keller, Parameswaran and Jacob, 2011). In the last few decades, a breadth of studies has addressed different aspects of brand equity as important influencers of differentiation between companiesResearchers associated high equity brands with exceptional performance demonstrated by indicators such as high shares of the market, profitability, price leadership and entry into new markets (Herrmann, Huber, Shao and Bao, 2007; Aaker and Biel, 2013).

Moreover, marketing management researchers focused on brand equity as a major influencer of intangible assets of a firm. One of the major contributors to brand equity literature is Aaker (1991) who developed a brand equity model that links brand liabilities and assets to the added value provided to consumers. According to Keller (1993), brand equity as an important factor of marketing refers to the varied effect of how customers respond to the marketing of a brand based on the brand knowledge. As such, evaluation of brand equity can adopt the perspective of customers, a concept referred to as customer-based brand equity.

Available knowledge on brand equity addresses consumer-based brand equity from the standpoint of cognitive psychology (Westberg and Pope, 2014, p. 432). As such, customer-based brand equity remains as one of the major concerns among researchers and scholars on marketing literature as they emphasize on the need to create value to customers. In his works, Keller (2016) utilized the concept of customer-focused brand equity as a determinant in decision making for marketing processes. According to Keller (2016), customer-based brand equity denotes that creation of brand equity when the customer demonstrates knowledge or familiarity with the brand. Also, customer demonstrates strong and distinctive associations with the brands.

The extant literature shows that Keller’s model identifies brand equity starting with the brand knowledge followed by a network of nodes to show how customers react to marketing activity (Keller, 2016; Pham, Do and Phung, 2016). The underlying concept of brand equity demonstrates that how customers feel or think about the brand, depending on their past experience determines the effectiveness of a marketing strategy (Ioannou and Rusu, 2012). As such, the model provides that firms should adopt a marketing approach that creates positive thoughts, perceptions and feelings about a brand. The model provides six elements that can create this positive perspective: salience of the brand, imagery, performance, feelings, judgment and resonance. Pham, Do and Phung (2016) considered this model as a branding hierarchy through which firms must create identities of their brands to establish meaning in the minds of consumers. Consumer responses, therefore, can hardly take place without the development of the right meaning and the relationship between the branding elements established.

2.2.1.      Research on brand equity

The concept of customer perception as an indicator of brand equity is increasingly becoming a major subject of interest for researchers. High levels of brand equity are considered as drivers of consumer preferences and buying intentions (Keller, 2016). Also, high levels of brand equity are considered as positive influencers of extensions, creating competitive edges and fostering resilience of firms against the competition. The contemporary application of customer-based brand equity is attributed to the advent of brand equity by Barwise (1993) and Aaker (1991) as an important indicator of marketing strategy performance. Contemporary understanding of the concept conceptualizes that brand equity entails value addition to products and services by consumers’ perceptions or associations of the brand.  As highlighted above, while conventional literature explained financial methods as one of the common ways of measuring brand equity, recent studies show that brand equity is examined from the perspective of consumers, and incorporates aspects such as buying intentions, preference to a brand and alliance to particular brands.

Contemporary academics consider customer-based brand equity dimensions by examining the reaction of consumers to a brand name (Blombäck and Ramírez-Pasillas, 2012; Keller, 2016). However, examining exact knowledge reveals that there is a plethora of definitions or brand equity as well as dimensions. For example, Bastos and Levy (2012) considered brand equity as an implicit appraisal of the brand in an environment characterized by differentiated brands compared to markets characterized by no differentiation. This standpoint considers brands as a cue on the product or service’s nature in terms of perceived quality, reliability and image. Also, Aaker (1996, p. 102) described brand equity as containing elements such as loyalty, perceived quality, the perceived value of the brand, perceived leadership of the brand, perception of the customers on the organization, brand awareness and market share position.

Evidently, the development of contemporary literature on brand equity creates a vast range of dimensions associated with the brand. In general terms, consumer perception of a brand name determines the superiority of the same against other brands in the market.  As such, brand equity denotes the perception of the consumers (Hardy, Norman and Sceery, 2012). Measuring consumer perception of brands in the contemporary environment using customer-based brand equity model is largely effected using the five dimensions of consumer-based brand equity. According to Aaker, using the customer-based brand equity means measuring the overall perception of consumers in terms of the product superiority relative to other brands.

One of the main dimensions of the model is the brand awareness as an important determinant of brand popularity in the market. As defined by Keller (2003, p. 76), awareness refers to the ability of consumers to recall or identify the brand name under varied conditions. For example, a consumer can identify the brand through its name, symbol and logo to particular associations in their minds. Further, Aaker (1991) included additional influencers of awareness, including brand knowledge and dominance. Aaker noted that brand knowledge comprises the range of associations related to the brand. Studies examining brand awareness demonstrates the relevance of recognition for new brands as it determines how they compete with incumbent brands. Barwise (1993) conceptualized that awareness should precede associations linked to a brand to allow consumers become aware of the same before developing the relevant associations.

The second dimension addressed by contemporary literature is brand associations. This dimension represents a key basis on which a consumer makes decisions. As explained by Keller (2016), brand associations entail all feelings and thoughts, images, experiences and perceptions associated with a brand. A breadth of academics considers brand association in two folds; product and organizational associations. According to Keller et al. (2011), product associations comprise the functional and non-functional features of a brand. The former refers to the tangible features while the latter to the intangible features. In the assessment of the brand, consumers associate the brand with its functional attributes. When appraising the brand, consumer examines the ability of the brand to perform the intended functions. Low levels of performance indicate low levels of brand equity and vice versa. Westberg and Pope (2014) indicate that performance of a product or service depends on the consumer judgment on the ability of the brand to maintain operations for a long time and with minimal or no flaws. Conversely, non-functional brand attributes include the ability of symbolic attributes to meet social approval standards and meet the consumer needs such as personal expression. Indeed, consumers associate the image of a brand to its perceived value, trustworthiness and distinctiveness.

On the other hand, organizational associations comprise the ability of corporates to create and provide outputs in addition to undertaking corporate social responsibilities such as perceived obligations to the society. As noted by Aaker (1996), the values, people and initiatives that rest with an organization determine how consumers perceive organizational associations. Herrmann et al. (20007) believe that organizations as brands can critical to consumers in terms of attributes. Researchers addressing organizational associations mention corporate social responsibility as one of the major concepts involved in the development of brands today. As emphasized by Keller (2016), contemporary consumers seek to know how brands affect the societies in which they serve.  As such, corporate social responsibility and brand are important components of how organizations strive to create value for consumers.

The third dimension of consumer-based brand equity is perceived quality. In definition, perceived quality is considered as to how a customer judges a product or service based on the general superiority of the product relative to other brands (Herrmann, Huber, Shao and Bao, 2007). Given the difficulty associated with making correct judgments on the perceived quality of a brand, consumers depend on a wide range of quality attributes (Pham, Do and Phung, 2016, p. 30). Therefore, perceived quality results from the judgment of the general quality of the services or products offered. Ioannou and Rusu (2012) noted that judgment of quality depends on the direct influence of perception; meaning that firms need to take into account the appropriate quality attributes to create a positive perception about quality.

Extant literature shows that perceiving quality may take depend on either intrinsic or extrinsic attributes (Keller, 2016). The former applies to the products with physical attributes such as appearance and color, while the latter refers to the non-physical attributes of the product; for example, brand name, product information, price and packaging, etc. (Keller, 2016). However, the specificity of product attributes makes it difficult for the consumer to generalize the brands in terms of quality.

Brand loyalty also serves as a key dimension of assessing brand equity in the market. In definition, brand loyalty refers to the level of attachment between a customer and a brand (Aaker and Biel, 2013). Brand loyalty appears as either behavioural or cognitive.  Hardy et al. (2012) associate behavioural brand loyalty to the behaviour of consumers relative to the brand in the market as represented by the purchasing or consumption pattern. Aaker and Biel (2013) also assert that behavioural loyalty to the brand is evidenced by the consumers’ commitment to making similar purchases in future.  Conversely, cognitive loyalty denotes that a consumer exhibits the need to make purchases before considering a particular brand. However, Melewar, Bassett and Simões (2006) insist that cognitive loyalty requires substantially high levels of brand awareness. As such, a brand must be the first priority for a customer before considering it as a cognitive loyalty, while recurrent purchases create behavioural loyalty. Yet, the scope of this study is limited to brand awareness, brand equity and brand loyalty.

Having provided an overview of branding literature, the next section will discuss social media marketing, with a view to consider how social media can be used to build and manage a brand in the context of English Football brands in China.……..

 

Social media refers to computer-based technologies that allow users (individuals or companies) to create and share information or convey expressions through networks and virtual communities (Huang, 2018). Typically, users can access social media through internet-based technologies on their computerised devices such as personal computers or smartphones. According to Huang (2018), social changed the way organisations and individuals communicate as they overcome the limitations of the conventional media, which involved one source and a large audience. Conversely, contemporary social media can allow more users to engage concurrently, without time and distance limitations.

 

Evidence shows that social media marketing is one of the key strategies of market and many companies realise the potential of using social media. According to Goh, Heng and Lin (2013), companies in the contemporary environment must use social media if they are to remain relevant and competitive in the market. Among the major reasons why companies adopt social media marketing relate the increased brand awareness (Brennan and Croft, 2012). Social media allows a business to increase its visibility, translating to a greater level of brand recognition as the business can engage with consumers. Social media platforms allow companies to demonstrate compassion for the target audience, positioning the brand positively. As such, brands seeking to maximise the levels of awareness should integrate social media in their marketing strategies

Another key reason explaining the use of social media in market relates to improved brand loyalty. According to (Brennan and Croft, 2012), one of the primary goals of any business is to create a loyal customer base. Given that brand awareness results in customer satisfaction, it is important to keep the customer base engaged and establish strong business-customer bond (Vale and Fernandes, 2018). As such, social media serves not as a platform of introducing a product and undertaking promotional campaigns, but also as a platform of communicating with customers directly. Social media is known to create brand loyalty, particularly to the millennials as they constitute the largest proportion of online customers (Vale and Fernandes, 2018). Because brands require constant communication with customers, companies must adopt and implement social media as a marketing strategy to attract the attention of the target consumers.

Companies use different methods to develop and implement social media marketing strategy. As explained by Ogbuji and Papazafeiropoulou (2016), the success of social media strategy depends on how the strategy conforms to business objectives. Business objectives allow a company to determine the return on investment against the laid out business goals. This implies using relevant metrics to determine the performance of social media strategy against pre-defined standards; for example, number of retweets, comments or likes (Ashley and Tuten, 2015). Tracking the performance of social media strategy, therefore, allows a company to maximise returns on social media investment.

Another key strategy used when implementing social media marketing is focusing on the audience and understanding them. According to Huang (2018), businesses should understand what customers want to see on social media and provide content that resonate with them. Successful social media strategies involve creating target audience personas to allow a firm think of the potential clients, their wants and needs. This strategy allows companies to think more accurately about the content to offer the consumers.

Having discussed social media marketing, the next section provides focus on football and considers how brand management and social media marketing have been used by EPL clubs to engage with Chinese football fans.

2.4.The context of football in China

This section explores English football in the context of China. According to the Daily Mail (2015), China has the largest base of British football competition, with over 350 million fans following the tournaments on regular basis. The survey by People’s Daily Online, cited in Daily Mail (2015) also showed that over 51% of Chinese football fans support the EPL as it is considered one of the leading tournaments in the world.

The UK football leagues such as EPL and clubs such as Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester and Chelsea dominate the European market, and strive to outperform each other by creating competitive edges in the domestic and international markets (Yu et al., 2017). To leverage opportunities in the Asian market, these football clubs strive to enhance the feeling and thoughts of fans in the region through robust marketing strategies. As such, football clubs seek to create and retain a large customer base in the football context by creating convincing marketing content about the value offered by the clubs to the customers. As a method of creating competitive edges, football clubs focus on branding as an approach to establishing strong loyalty to the brand. Indeed, Ratten and Ratten (2011) demonstrate that branding is a common strategy adopted by professional football clubs to attract large customer and support base.

Following the need to commercialize and expand revenue streams, the need for UK clubs to enter the international market, especially in the Asian countries cannot be overemphasized (Ratten & Ratten, 2011). According to Bodet &Chanavat (2010), professional football clubs strive to augment the status of their brand by expanding to foreign markets to influence the perception of their brand. By focusing on particular markets such as China, Bodet &Chanavat (2010) show that brand equity can be attained by enhancing the level of brand awareness as well as the perceived quality.  With the intensifying competition in the global market, football clubs in the major leagues seek to enhance their marketing strategies as a way of enhancing the image and loyalty of the brand.

While China did not have a large base of football fans in the past, recent data indicates that Chinese fans are increasingly becoming interested in football. For example, Chinese were among the largest attendants of the recent FIFA World Cup in Russia, with over 37, 000 buying tickets out of the 1.7 million tickets sold (Yahoo Sports, 2018). Chinese fans have become the second-largest country showing interest in football after the U.S. as such, English football clubs must be looking to leverage this opportunity by maximising brand awareness in the country.

Certainly, some clubs such as Manchester United takes a leading position in the branding process as it adopts several marketing strategies such as opening club shops in the international markets; the clubs sell branded products such as club t-shirts and tickets (Cohen, 2018). However, the clubs often consider re-strategizing their global branding strategy to the increasing need to create a larger market niche. One of the strongly considered points of focus relates to the customers’ standpoint in relation to the brands. Theoretically, consumers’ perception about the football clubs determines their willingness to engage with club activities and branded products. As such, consumers’ view of the clubs depends not only on the field performance but also the overall image and meaning they represent.

In a study by Elliott & Weedon (2011), the authors demonstrated that professional football clubs seek to penetrate foreign markets by incorporating foreign players in their teams. For example, Elliott &Weedon show that English football clubs involve foreign players in their youth academy system. While this strategy often results in negative perception among the local fans, it creates a long-standing positive impact on the international market fan base. The authors argue that while involving foreign players in their professional teams, the English clubs create a sense of diversity, allowing foreign fan base to identify with the clubs as brands.

Evidence on the increasing presence of western football clubs in Asian markets has been attributed to the diffusion of media in the region (Rowe & Gilmour, 2010). In particular, the Western media targets the youth in their cultural settings to transfer their opinion about the Western football clubs. The dispersion of the media makes it possible for professional football clubs to increase the content supplied to the Asian support and customer base. Rowe and Gilmour demonstrate that the distribution of the Western interests on sports becomes a major strength for European football leagues such as the EPL. Consistent with this assertion, Kringstad, Solberg and Jakobsen (2018) increased media coverage in the Asian market fostered the need to leverage opportunities in the region. According to these authors, the need for globalization felt all industries across the world, including football. The same case applied to the UK football clubs as they found a great need to adopt a global marketing approach to widen their market and revenue share. Following the pressures to commercialize and create competitive edges across the world, football clubs strive to forge strong associations with important Asian markets such as China. Kringstad, Solberg and Jakobsen (2018) consider the role of increasing TV programme in Asian markets as the reason for EPL expansion in the region. However, how the Asian fan base considers these clubs remains underexplored.

 

Social media has become one of the important platforms through which clubs engage and convey marketing content to customers. Indeed, a survey report by The Drum (2017) showed that more than 71 percent of Chinese football supports depend on social media platforms such as WeChat and Weibo to share their experiences and feelings about their favourite clubs. As such, it is critical for English football clubs to leverage social media presence of their Chinese supporters and create meaning as well as the positive brand image in the country. According to Mullin et al. (2014), English Premier League clubs take account of the social media power to create a strong base of followers. However, the clubs have encountered a great deal of pressure from opponents in creating awareness as each club seek to acquire the greatest share in the market. Also, the language difference impedes the ability of English clubs to engage their Chinese fans as most of them prefer their native language.

 

3.5. The use of social media by football clubs

 

These shortcomings notwithstanding, great efforts are evidenced by clubs such as Manchester United as it strives to create entrant advantage in China through a strategic partnership with China-based leagues. According to Cohen (2018), the strategic partnership between Manchester United with Sina sports allows the club to enjoy one of the greatest media coverage in the country. This strategic option represents efforts by English clubs to leverage opportunities associated with marketing and media coverage in the foreign country. However, available studies fall short of explaining to what extent the marketing strategies go as far as creating a positive perception and feeling towards the clubs is concerned. As such, it is important to undertake a further inquiry to ascertain this concern in the Chinese football market.

 

3.6. Summary

This chapter has provided a review of literature around brand equity management and social media marketing. The review shows that brand management focuses on establishing relationship between brands and customers. The use of social media as a marketing strategy has become an important undertaking by firms in the contemporary world as it allows them to engage and communicate with customers.   The use social media is evident in the context of football in China, particularly on how professionalization of marketing by EPL football clubs is exhibited through the increasing use of social media to engage with Chinese fans. Given the limited research in this area, this study aims to explore and examine Chinese football fandom, and in particular their engagement with English Premier League clubs on social media. The next chapter provides detail of the methodology to meet this research aim.

 

3.0.Chapter 3: Methodology

3.1.Introduction

This chapter describes the methods, design, techniques and tools for data collection. The chapter also provides the approach to data analysis and ethical considerations taken into account.

The Chinese context was selected for the purpose of this study based on the findings by Bodet and Chanavat (2010), that Asian market is highly targeted by football clubs because of its high prospect in football commercial development, particularly China. The Chinese market is characterised by consumers with increasing levels of purchasing power and passion for football. However, the extent perception of Chinese consumers about the UK football remains uncertain, thus, the importance of the following methodology.

3.2.Research aim and objectives

This study therefore aims to explore Chinese football fandom and engagement with English Premier League clubs on social media. More specifically, the research objectives are:

 

The preceding chapters provide an overall overview of football clubs marketing and its effectiveness to promote brand awareness and identity in the market. Fundamentally, the aim of this study is to determine how effective the marketing strategies are in promoting the image of the brand in China, as practiced by UK Football clubs. The general findings in the perspective of this aim will aid in determining the most effective strategies to enhance brand in Asian markets, especially China.

Consistently, the main objective of this study is to determine the perception of Chinese fans in UK Football clubs. This objective also encompasses the need to determine the extent of awareness of UK Football clubs in China. The rationale of addressing this objective relates to the understanding of how Chinese football fans perceive the presence of English football clubs and leagues. Hypothetically, a high level of awareness would indicate that marketing strategies adopted by the football clubs are effective in China, and vice versa.

The next objective of this study is to determine how loyal the Chinese fans are to UK Football clubs. This objective focuses on the level of commitment to the clubs they support. Fans with a long-standing history of supporting the clubs will denote the effectiveness of the marketing approaches to attract and retain a strong fan base.

Given that contemporary football clubs leverage the power of social media to reach supporters or fans, the next objective seeks to determine the effectiveness of social media as a marketing strategy adopted by UK football clubs. The purpose of this objective is to explicate how marketing strategies by football clubs exploit social media presence to establish a strong brand image and engage with the increasing number of internet users in China.

The effectiveness of the existing marketing strategies in the light of these objective and aim sets a strong basis of determining the most effective marketing approach to exploiting opportunities in the Chinese markets.

3.3.Research Philosophy

Research philosophy is understood as a belief about the varied ways in which data should be gathered, analysed and interpreted to address a particular research phenomenon (Collins, 2017). In its simplest terms, research collecting, analysis and use of primary and secondary data to address the predefined research questions, and forms the basis of generating new insights and knowledge (Easterby-Smith, Thorpe and Jackson, 2012). As such, addressing the aspect of research philosophy in research implies a clear understanding of the assumptions and beliefs underlying the study. In the light of the business studies scope, four research philosophies exist; pragmatism, positivism, realism and interpretivism. Tsang (2016, p. 4) emphasized that choosing a relevant research philosophy is a critical part of the research methodology. Indeed, the philosophical approach allows a researcher to determine the appropriate research to use and the underlying reasons. Therefore, prior to describing the research design for this study, it is important to explore the relevant research philosophy.

Positivism

This study adopted positivism philosophy. In its simplest terms, positivism underscores that the only way of understanding the real nature of a phenomenon or explore the truth is through science (Gratton and Jones, 2010). As a research philosophy, positivism conforms to the idea that factual information or insights based on observations and measurements are believable. Positivism provides that a researcher’s role is confined to collect data and interpretation in a subjective manner (Tsang, 2016). As such, the findings from this philosophical approach are not only observable, but also quantifiable. Positivism philosophy is contingent on quantifiable observations that result in quantitative analysis.

Further, it is important to note that some things can hardly be observed, especially the attitudes and thoughts of people. As such, there two key principles applied in positivism: to segregate, analyses and demystify the cause of the particular human behaviour. As explained by Merkl-Davies, Brennan and Vourvachis, (2011), the fundamental assumption is that particular human behaviour results from particular influencers, which if explicated, can serve as a basis of explaining or envisaging human behaviour. The next principle relates to the need for objectivity. According to Gratton and Jones (2010, p. 25), there should be an importance on objectivity for positivist to allow for reproduction and measurable observations to allow for statistical analysis. According to Tsang (2016), the positivist approach is the key to the natural scientific method to studying human behaviour, and that research should be confined to objective and measurable data. For the purpose of this study, a positivist approach implies that data collection and analysis should be devoid of human judgment and opinions.

3.4.Research Design

Collins (2017) emphasized the need to decide how to design the study prior to undertaking data collection, analysis and interpretation. The research design is understood as the overall strategy chosen to integrate the varied constituents of a research in a logical and coherent way, ensuring that the research problem is addressed effectively (Lewis, 2015). Simply defined, research design entails the blueprint for data collection, measurement and analysis. According to Lewis (2015), it important to understand that the research design is contingent on the research problem. There is a vast range of designs adopted for different research problems, including action-research, cohort, and descriptive, experimental, exploration, sequential, observational, and historical, among others (Creswell and Creswell, 2017).

This study adopted an exploratory design. An exploratory design is suggested in studies where no prior studies or a few studies exist for reference (Hair et al., 2015). According to Hair and others, an exploratory design is more effective in the preliminary stages of an investigation regarding an existing phenomenon. For the purpose of this study, while the marketing of football clubs is a long-standing phenomenon in extant literature, few studies exist to explicate the case of fans perception in China. As such, an exploratory design would be necessary to explicate the problem from a limited knowledge perspective. According to Christensen (2011), an exploratory research serves as an instrument for preliminary research to offer a theoretical or hypothetical knowledge about a research phenomenon. While an exploratory design may not offer a concrete answer for a study problem, it provides researchers with insights to understand the nature of the problem as well as aiding a better understanding of the research problem. The researcher used this design based on its key strengths such as providing a flexible and solid ground for further research. Studying the effectiveness of marketing strategies for UK football clubs in China provides a strong grounded picture of Asian fans and supporters’ perception of their favorite teams. This study also aids in the development of assumptions and new ideas, forming a basis for further inquiry into the research phenomenon. As explained above, the primary objective of this study is not to provide solutions on marketing approaches and strategies, but identify the existing state of fans and supporters in terms of brand awareness and identity, and identify possible strategies to enhance the effectiveness of marketing strategies.

Quantitative Data

The philosophical assumption of positivism is quantitative research, which involves a selection of a sample to represent the whole population, based on the strategy deemed appropriate by the researcher (Collins, 2017). The small selection is based on the perceived ability to represent a bigger group, and allow the researcher to complete the study within the time and budget estimates. While the exploratory qualitative design does not imply that the results are statistical or universally correct, the qualitative research provides in-depth insights, and as such, provides a better understanding of the research problem

3.5.Data Collection

Data collection entails the gathering and measurement of data through a systematic process to meet the objective of the research or address research questions (Creswell and Clark, 2017). Methods of data collection can be clustered in the categories of primary and secondary methods. Secondary data involve using existing sources such as books, journals, magazines, newspapers, online sources, etc., to collect data from prior studies on a research phenomenon. For the purpose of this paper, a varied set of sources were used to collect secondary data as presented in the literature review section.

The following subsections describe the methods used to collect primary data.

Primary Data

Primary data include information obtained directly from participants to address particular research questions and objectives (Burkhardt, 2012). As such, this study focused on collecting data deemed relevant to address the research phenomenon; the effectiveness of marketing strategies on Chinese fans perception about UK football clubs.

3.6.Sample and sampling strategy

According to Burkhardt (2012), it would be unworkable to study the entire population, particularly when conducting surveys. As such, a sampling strategy allows the researcher to gather information about the entire population, while not necessary for investigating every person. The relevance of a sample in a study relates to the ability of a researcher to reduce costs and collect a high-quality data. However, Creswell and Clark (2017) argue that a sample must be balanced with the population to ensure a true representation. The population for this study comprises the UK football fans in China. This comprises the individuals who follow their favorite teams for fun, or consumer branded merchandise as a sign of the relationship with the teams.

A simple random sampling strategy was adopted to identify 60 respondents to provide their perspective towards the football clubs brands. A convenience sampling method involves providing the easiest way of recruiting participants to take part in the study. To identify respective participants, the researcher exploited the digital platforms such as social media networks to connect with fans and supporters of English football clubs in China.

3.7.Data Collection Technique

A survey method was used to gather for this study. According to Burkhardt (2012), a survey comprises at least a population sample, a method of gathering data and specific questions on items to be analysed quantitatively. A survey may address varied topics, including opinions and preferences. Given the scope and nature of the population, and the cost and time constraints, an online survey was used. As explained by Fowler Jr (2013), an online survey involves a systematic process of collecting data from the participants by inviting them to complete the web-based questionnaire. An online survey is considered the fastest and less costly method of data as opposed to the conventional survey method (Fowler Jr, 2013). The primary strength behind the choice of an online survey is the ease of collecting data. As such, 100 respondents completed the questionnaire within the time and budget estimates.

3.8.Tools of data collection

Questionnaire

An online-based questionnaire was used to gather data. Questionnaires comprise sets of questions purposed to address research problems. According to Burkhardt (2012), questionnaires are designed to allow statistical analysis. The choice of questionnaires as tools of data collection relates to the key strengths such as providing standardized responses that make the compilation of data simple. Also, some respondents prefer questionnaires as they can respond to the questions at their most convenient time (Fowler Jr, 2013).

The questionnaire used in this study comprises five sections. Section A requires the respondents to provide their general information, including age, gender and interest in football. Section B allowed the participants to provide information regarding the General Football, including the frequency of watching football in a stadium or through media, and following football news through different platforms.

Section C allowed the consumers to respond to statements focusing on the English Premier League. Question 1 of this section required the participants to respond to the question based on a 5-point Likert Scale, with 1 representing Not Very Interested and 5 representing Very Interested. Other questions included the extent to which the participants watch EPL, their favorite club and the number of years supporting the club.

Section D focused on General Social Media, including questions about the preferred social media platforms and the frequency of social media use.

Section E focused on Social Media and the EPL, including the preference of participants regarding the social media and clubs, and the reasons for engaging the clubs through social media.

The last section allowed the participants to respond to the statements based on a 5 –point Likert Scale, with 1 indicating Strongly Agree and 5 Indicating Strongly Disagree. The statements addressed the opinion of the participant towards the social media and the clubs.

3.9.Data Analysis

All the data collected through the questionnaire were entered, verified and coded into statistical software (SPSS). The SPSS version 22 was used to analyze the data. According to Wagner III (2014), the SPSS is a suitable tool for exploring the relationship between variables and setting a basis for explanations. For example, the software provides the relationship between the fans and how they became attached to particular clubs and aspects such as frequency of using social media, age and gender. The statistical tests comprise the frequency analysis, mean and standard deviations. The statistical analysis provides general and specific information regarding the football fans and supporters of English football clubs.

A quantitate survey conducted for the collection of data allowed for the use of SPSS as the main software tool for analysis. The statements and questions in the questionnaire were pre-coded and provide important variables to explore in this study. The four categories of variables, as suggested by Bryman and Bell (2007) are presented in the following analysis.

One of the key categories is the dichotomous variables that comprise two categories of data. According to the survey questions, the first section asks the respondents to provide demographic variables, including gender. This forms the category of dichotomous variable (Bryman & Bell, 2011). The questionnaire also asked the respondents to indicate their age, a set of variables that can order based on the number of years. This forms the ordinal variables. However, the distance between the ages categories are not equal, meaning that they can be clustered in a particular rank.  Also, questions 1 and 2 in section B contains ordinary variables as the frequency at which the respondents watch the football matches in the stadium or through the media can be ranked in a particular order. Question 4 of section C is about the number of years the fans have supported their favorite clubs, and this data can be ranked based on the reported number of years.  However, the feedback to some questions cannot be ranked in a particular order. For example, question 3 of section B asked the respondents to indicate the media through which they use to get football-related news and information. This variable belongs to the group of nominal variables.

Interval variables represent a case where the distance between the ranges between variable categories can be ascertained, or the distance remains identical across array of categories. In this study, the opinion of the fun was sought to present ordinal variables based on the Likert Scale (Bryman & Bell, 2011). The survey questions were based on a 5-point Likert scale with 1 representing Strongly Agree and 5 Representing Disagree. These responses are considered as interval variables.

A univariate analysis is also used in this study. Univariate analysis involves one variable without relating it to another variable. According to (Christensen, Johnson, Turner and Christensen, 2011), the most common methods of univariate analysis are diagrams and frequency tables. The diagrams are considered as the most common forms of representing quantitative data because they allow for easy reading and interpretation of data. On the other hand, frequency tables allow for representation of variables in form of numbers and percentages. In this study, frequency tables and diagrams were used to represent demographic data provided by the respondents. In addition, the SPSS was used to undertake univariate analysis and create descriptive statistics such as measures of measures of central tendency. These measures were used to provide the mean for the distribution as well as standard deviation (SD). In order to provide averages in descriptive analysis, this study used arithmetic mean from the addition of all values in the distribution divided by the n-value (number) of values. Conversely, the standard deviation provides an average if the mean variations (Bryman and Bell). In this case, a value characterised by high mean and low SD imply that no difference exists on how the respondents perceive an attribute as equally significance. On the other hand, a low mean with a high SD denotes the presence of difference on how respondents perceive an attribute in terms of importance (Bryman and Bell, 2015). In the analysis for data, values on the attributes are used to explain their importance based on criteria that fans use to determine which football clubs to support. The descriptive statistics also helps in explaining how the respondents perceive the value of different media through which to follow their favorite clubs.

Bivariate and multivariate analyses were also used in this study.  Bivariate analysis involves analyzing two variables with an aim of exploring how one variable matches with variations of additional variables or determine their relationship. Analyzing variations between two variables is referred to as correlation analysis. Also, simple regression analysis was used with ordinal variables to show the nature of correlation between social media as a marketing strategy and the level of brand awareness or how the participants perceive the brand identity. Also, multivariate analysis was used to analyze more than two survey variables. Multivariate analysis in this study was used to explain the nature of the relationship as with the regression analysis. Therefore, multivariate regression analysis explores the correlation between English football clubs brand awareness and the perceived quality of social media to create value for customers. The Likert Scale questions in all sections will form the key variables (dependent and independent variables) for multiple regression analysis.

Reliability test was also used to measure the relationship between social media marketing and brand equity. This test used the Cronbach’s Alpha to determine consistency of the responses in the varied indicators of brand equity. The reliability tests applied to Likert Scale questions, and the SPSS statistical formula was used to calculate Cronbach‘s Alpha.  The criteria for reliability test is that Cronbach’s Alpha results had to be over 0.7 (Bryman and Bell, 2015).

3.10.        Ethical Considerations

According to Stokes (2011), it is important for a researcher to show ethical consideration to people, individuals or consumers as they form the basic source of value for academic work. Several ethics were observed in this study. First, the respondents were provided with detailed information during the invitation phase, allowing the make participation decisions. The participants were informed of no harm associated with participating in the research, and that they could withdraw from the study at any time and stage, without attracting any negative effect. The participants were further assured of anonymity, and that their information would not be shared with another party without their due consent.

3.11.        Limitations

While the methodology was planned and implemented, the approach was contained by some factors. First, the online-survey focused on football fans with an online presence, ignoring the possibility of offline supporters who follow and engage with their favorite teams through other platforms such as television, newspapers or demonstrating brand loyalty and identity through offline activities such as buying branded merchandise. Although the sample used in this study provides an overview of the Chinese football fans and supporters, generalized conclusions can hardly be made to represent the effectiveness of marketing strategies, especially digital marketing in China and other Asian markets.

3.12.        Summary/Conclusions

The methodology chapter justifies the use of positivist philosophy and the underlying quantitative research based on the exploratory design. Given that the study of Chinese fans perception towards the English football clubs is in the preliminary stages, an exploratory is the most appropriate to allow the research explore the research problem provide a general perspective and set a basis for further studies. An online survey was deemed appropriate to collect data to conform to the time and budget limits. A structured questionnaire allows the participants to respond to specific questions without diverging further, saving time and addressing the particular research objectives.

 

 

4.0. Chapter 4: Results

This chapter presents the analysis of the questionnaire data. Statistical analysis was conducted using SPSS software. First, general sample characteristics are outlined before discussion of Chinese football fandom and engagement with English Premier League clubs. Then a brand equity analysis from the perspective of fans is considered.

4.1. Sample characteristics

As explained in the methodology chapter, a total of 60 respondents were targeted to answer the questionnaires, out of which all were admitted as they met the qualification criteria. The researcher confirmed all the questionnaires in terms of completeness. Therefore, all the 60 questionnaires were taken into account in the analysis. The following section describes the general information as gathered.

Age of the participants

Table 1: Age Distribution

Age Frequency Percentage
18 years and below 13 21.7
19-25 years 18 30.0
26-35 years 22 36.7
36-45 years 6 10.0
46 years and above 1 1.7

 

Table 1 above shows that most of the questionnaire respondents were in their middle age, accounting for 36.7% of the total number of participants. Young adults (19-25 years) followed second with about 30% of the total participants. The participants aged 36-45 years accounted for 10% and those aged 45 and older accounted for the least percentage, with 1.7% of the total number of participants. The age distribution data indicates that interest in football diminishes with age, and the middle-aged accounting for the highest percentage of football fans; this is as far as the sample for this study is concerned.

Gender

Table 2: Gender

Gender Frequency Percentage
Male 42 70.0
Female 18 30.0

 

Regarding gender, the majority of participants were male, 70% (n=42), which may be unsurprising as football is still considered to be a male-dominated sport. This finding agreed with the works of wang and Matsuoka (2014) that investigated motives of sports spectators in China. According to their findings, Female spectators were less interested in football while male spectators expressed interest and attended more games.……….

 

4.2. General football behaviour

4.2.1 Interest in Football

General interest in football was considered in Question 3 (section A) in the questionnaire where respondents were asked to indicate their interest on a scale where 1 is not very interested and 5 is very interested. As you can see from Table 3, the majority of respondents exhibited a moderate level of interest in football (n=28; 30%), followed by a 20% (n=12) of the respondents strongly interested in football and 8.3% (n=5) very interested in football. A significant proportion (n=8) accounting for 13.3% are fairly interested in football and 11.7% (n=7) expressed the lowest level of interest in football. These results conform to the extant literature that China is developing to become one of the leading Asian markets for football. In particular, Júnior and Rodrigues (2017) established that Chinese people and the government are increasingly embracing football as part of the Chinese citizen’s culture.

Table 3: Interest in Football

Likert Scale 1 2 3 4 5
Frequency 7 8 18 12 5
Percentage 11.7 13.3 30 20 8.3

 

Following interest in football, Question 3 (Section B) enquired about how participants kept up to date with football-related news…

Table 4: Media used to keep up-to-date

Frequency Percentage
Internet 28 46.7
TV 4 8.0
Newspaper 18 30.0
Radio 10 16.7

Data from table 6 and figure above shows that internet is the commonly used media by the respondents to watch football matches, accounting for 46.7%. The rest of the media reported significantly low percentages, with the Newspaper media, TV and Radio accounting for 30%, 16.7% and 8% respectively. This data demonstrates the inclination to online media as opposed to conventional media (radio, newspaper and TV).

 

 

4.2.1 Football spectatorship

General football spectatorship was considered in Question 1 (Section B) where respondents were asked how often they watched football matches live in a stadium.

Table 5: Watching football in a stadium

Frequency Percentage
Every week 2 13.3
Once a month 5 8.3
Once every few months 15 25.0
Once or twice a year 12 20.0
Never 26 43.3

 

Data in table 4 above shows that 15 of the respondents watch football one in a few months, accounting for 25% of the responses. Also, a significant majority representing the 20% of the respondents watch football in a stadium once or twice a year, while the majority have never attended a live match in a stadium. 26 of the respondents, accounting for the highest percentage (43.3%) prefer other means of watching football other than attending live matches. Only 8.3% of the respondents have attended football matches once a month, while only 13.3% can afford to watch matches at least once a week.

Question 2 of Section B focused on media platforms used to follow football matches. The collected data is summarized in the frequency table below:

Table 6: Watching football through media

  Frequency Percentage
Every week 28 46.7
Once a month 21 35.0
Once every few months 8 13.3
Once or twice a year 3 5.0
Never 0

 

Data from table 5 above indicates that a majority of the respondents manage to watch football matches at least once a week, accounting for 46.7% while the participant who can watch football through the media accounted for 35%. The least proportion (5%) can only manage to watch football on media once or twice a year. The use of media, therefore, seems higher than attending live matches in a stadium. With the increased penetration of social media and mobile technologies, football fans seems to prefer online platforms due to their underlying advantages such as convenience and ability to overcome geographical barriers (Li, Dittmore and Scott, 2017)

 

 

 

 

4.3 English Premier League

4.3.1 Interest in EPL

Interest in the EPL was considered in Question 1 (section C) in the questionnaire where respondents were asked to indicate their interest on a scale where 1 is not very interested and 5 is very interested. As you can see from table 7:

Table 7: Interest in English Premier League

Likert Scale 1 2 3 4 5
Frequency 3 9 14 23 11
Percentage 5.0 15.0 23.3 38.3 18.3

 

The results as shown in Table 7 above shows that a majority of the responded are interested in English Premier League, accounting for 38.3% of the responses, followed by 23.3% who are fairly interested in EPL. 15% of the respondents are not interested in the premier league while only 5% of them are not very interested. This result implies that EPL is fairly watched by the respondents. The high interest in EPL denotes the increasing adoption of the westerner lifestyle, including football (Lu and Xu, 2015). Also, the results indicate the substantive efforts by English football clubs to capitalise on the emerging market in Asia.

Question 2 of Section C asked the respondents to indicate how often they watched EPL matches……………………… The results are presented in the table below:

How often do you watch English Premier League football matches? Frequency Percentage
Every week 30 50.0
Once a month 24 40.0
Once every few months 5 8.0
Once or twice a year 1 1.0
Never 0 0

 

 

 

 

4.3.2 Club support

Respondents were then asked whether there was one EPL club that they supported the most and how often they watched the clubs. The results are presented in the table below.

 

If any, which English Premier League football do you support the most?

 

Manchester United

 

20 33.3
Manchester City

 

16 26.7
Chelsea

 

14 23.3
Arsenal

 

5 8.3
Liverpool

 

9 15.0
Leicester City 5 8.3
For the club that you support the most, how often do you watch their matches?

 

Every week 25 41.7
Once a month 20 33.3
Once every few months 10 16.7
Once or twice a year 5 8.3
Never 0 0

Figure 4: Focus on EPL

 

According to the questionnaire responses, 50% of the respondents can manage to watch EPL at least once a week, while 40% of them could watch English football matches at least once a month. However, a few of the respondents could watch EPL matches once in a few months, accounting for 8% and once or twice a year accounting for only 1 percent. Overall, the responses indicate that the respondents are actively following the matches and related news.

Manchester United emerged as the most watched, accounting for 33.3% of the respondents, followed by Manchester City with 26.7%. Other clubs with less fan base include Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, and Leister City with 23.3%, 8.3, 15% and 8.3%, respectively. According to the responses, the 41.7% of the respondents can manage to watch their favourite EPL club at least once a week, while 33.3 % of them could watch their clubs’ matches at least once a month. However, a few of the respondents could watch EPL matches once in a few months, accounting for 16.3% and once or twice a year accounting for only 8.3 percent. Overall, the responses indicate that the respondents are actively following the matches and related information.

These findings demonstrate the increasing importance of EPL to Chinese football fans. The frequency of following the clubs, for example, demonstrates the inclination tow awards English football clubs. Weekly watching  of  the  clubs’ matches  through defend media platforms  explains the growing interest of Chinese  fans towards  EPL clubs, each seeking to gain and retain an  increasing fan base in East Asia. However, some clubs are more popular than others. For example, this study agreed with previous findings that Manchester United leads in popularity than other clubs in China. In general terms, a significant number of Chinese fans identify with EPL clubs and spend considerable amount of time watching the matches.

For the clubs that the participants supported in question 3 of Section C, the  question (Q6) asked the participants about their fan behaviour regarding the club they supported the most……… The responses are summarised in the table below:

Support Frequency Percentage
Watched them in a football match in a stadium

 

5 8.0
Purchased a branded merchandise

 

13 21.7
Purchased other club’s merchandise

 

9 15.1
Engaged the club through online platforms?

 

33 55.0

Table 5: How to support the clubs

Results from the data analysed above show that most of the respondents (55%) used online platforms to engage the clubs, indicating the relevance of the internet in supporting English football clubs. Also, a significant number of the respondents supported the clubs through buying of the branded merchandise, while the least number (8%) watched the clubs playing live. The penetration and adoption of the internet as a means of engaging the clubs can partly explain the low number of respondents attending live matches to support their clubs.

In order to determine how long the respondents planned to continue supporting the club, question 7 of Section C asked the; “How long do you plan to continue supporting the club?” the results are presented in the frequency table below:

Table 8: Support Plan

Support Plan Frequency Percentage
For the next 1 year or less 2 3.3
For the next 2-4 years 4 6.7
For the next 5-10 years 18 30
To infinity 36 60

 

The results of question 7 show that majority of the respondents, accounting for 60% plan to support their favourite clubs to infinity. This implies a strong sense of commitment and loyalty among the participants. 30% of them, however, plan to support the club for 5 to 10 years, also indicating a substantial level of commitment and loyalty to the clubs. Yet, 6.7% of the respondents plan to support the club for at least years and not more than 4 years, while only 3.3% of them can support the club for 1 or fewer years. Overall, the sample represents a strong base of loyal fans to their clubs.

Brand loyalty is the reward that EPL clubs have gained by using social media, ensuring a long-standing use of social media in particular clubs. Loyalty is expressed in different forms, including the purchasing of branded merchandise for particular clubs and engaging the clubs in a consistent manner. Also, the plan to support the clubs to infinity confirmed that almost all of the supported clubs have established a substantial level of loyalty. With Sina Weibo and Facebook as the leading social media platforms used to engage the clubs, the daily use of social media for EPL-related purposes confirms that China is not only an emerging market for EPL, but also an active market that may near saturation in the near future.

Brand acceptance serves as one of the major tools of resistance to competition. While the football market in Asia is increasingly becoming competitive, clubs may encounter challenges creating brand loyalty, particularly those below Manchester United’s popularity rank. Social media provide fans with multiple options for accessing information about other clubs, making it easy to drop support to other clubs (competitors). However, a number of followers may attract new followers as it creates a positive perception of a brand. Yet, the loyal fans add real value to an organisation. Second, a significant level of awareness fosters engagement and enthusiasm. While having many followers may not always translate to significant value for a club, having loyal fans and supporters are essential to help the brand interact and engage with them through meaningful exchanges. Real exchanges are more valuable to online fans as well as the image of the brand.

4.4. General social media use

Given the need to explore the social media platforms used by the participants to follow or engage the clubs, Section D of the questionnaire collected data on participants’ general use of social media. The results are presented below:

Table 9: Social Media Platforms Used

Platform used Frequency Percentage
Twitter 13 21.7
Sina Weibo 20 33.3
Facebook 15 25.0
Instagram 8 13.3
Others 4 6.7

 

Sina Weibo emerged as the most commonly used social media platform by the respondents, accounting for 33.3% of the sample selected. The second most used platform was Facebook with 25% of respondents using for football purposes. Twitter became third in rank with 21.7% of users and Instagram accounting for 13.3%. Other platforms such as Telegram, WhatsApp and WeChat accounted for the lowest percentage (6.7%). These findings reinforced earlier findings by Xu (2014) that the Chinese social media ecosystem is characterised by high number of users, with Weixin leading with 355 million users and Sina Weibo with 129 million users. As such, Sina Weibo is one of the leading social media platforms used by marketers to target Chinese digital consumers.

 

To explain the incidence of social media use for the purpose of football matches, it was critical to ask the respondents about their frequency of social media use. Question 2 of Section D collected this data as presented below:

Table 10: Frequency of Social Media Use

Use incidence Frequency Percentage
Every Day 32 53.3
Several times a week 20 33.3
Several time a month 8 13.3
Once or twice a year 0 0
Never 0 0

 

Everyone in the sample data seems to use social media platforms at least every month for football-related news and events. A majority of the respondents managed to use social media on a daily basis, accounting for 53.3%, followed the weekly users accounting for 33.3% and monthly users accounting for 13.3%. There was no indication of yearly users or non-users of social media, demonstrating its relevance for the respondent’s engagement with the clubs and related news and events. From these findings, it was established that more users use social media to follow their favourite EPL clubs.  A study by Raji, Mohd Rashid and Mohd Ishak (2018) on the influence of social media concluded that social media is one of the most effective marketing strategies that can readily influence users. The study imply that EPL clubs develop and use social media sites to reach fans  and allow them to interact with the teams, post their experience and  make reviews.

. It was concluded that clubs such as Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea attract fans to participate through user-friendly social media sites that create a positive perception towards the brand, therefore, building trust and reducing the perceived risk of associating with the clubs.

4.5 Social media with EPL

4.5.1 Social media engagement and motivations

This section explored the use of social media for EPL purposes: The first question asked the respondents about their preference on social media, including particular EPL clubs, EPL players and general commentators and news. The results are presented in the table below:

Table 11:  Reasons for Social media use

Reasons for social media platforms use Frequency Percentage
Specific EPL football clubs

 

35 58.3
Specific EPL football players

 

12 20.0
General football commentators/news

 

13 21.7

 

The second question of Section E asked the respondents with a particular focus on EPL FCs the reasons for using social media. The following table indicates the results:

Reasons Frequency Percentage
To get the latest information about the club 14 23.3
To get the latest information about the players and transfers 10 16.7
To engage in competition and polls 12 20.0
To receive information about table rankings 24 40.0

 

Receiving information about EPL table ranking emerged as the leading reason why the respondents use social media, accounting for 40%. The data also demonstrated that getting information regarding the club was the second leading reason explaining social media use (23.3), while engaging in competition and polls became third, accounting for20%. The least number of participants indicated that social media platforms help them get information about clubs’ transfers and particular players. This study underscored the assertions by Celine (2012) that social media is the most accepted strategy by consumers compared to other conventional marketing components. In particular, Kilgour, Sasser and Larke (2015) asserted that it is critical for organisations to provided followers or customers with messages and content that makes them feel unique. By providing fresh and select information, emerging deals, enhance the subscription to important content such as e-newsletters makes customers feel as a sense of importance. Further, the study by Baird and Parasnis (2011) focused on social customer relationship management and established that prior to using social media to engage the brands, customers need to identify with a sense of trust for the organisation and that the information communicated demonstrate  honesty. Consequently, the advantages provided by social media serve as the primary reason why Chinese fans engage with their favourite clubs. In turn, this explains that some clubs have utilised social media more effectively than others.

4.5.2 Attitudes towards social media use by EPL clubs

To understand further Chinese football fans, their attitudes towards the use of social media by EPL clubs were probed. This was done with four statements presented with a Likert scale (where 1 was strongly agreed and 5 was strongly disagree).

Table 12: Mean scores and SD of statements

Variable Mean Standard Deviation
I feel closer to the club/players because I follow them on social media 3.00 1.430
It is easier to follow and engage with the club through social media than other platforms 2.56 1.421
The content of information on social is adequate to understand the recent news, ranking and transfers of the clubs 2.34 1.430
Social media platforms are more convenient when engaging the clubs as opposed to conventional means 2.45 1.540

 

Upon the analysis of data using SPSS software, the output showed that a majority of the respondents (M 3.00; SD 1.403) did not agree or disagree that the use social media it allows them to feel closer to the football club they follow. The descriptive statistics also showed that the convenience associated with using social media when engaging the clubs became the second (M 2.45; SD 1.540) reason expressed as a motivator to using social media when supporting EPL clubs. The content of information on social was considered as adequate to understand recent news, ranking and transfers of the clubs (M 2.34; SD 1.430). The ease of engaging and following the clubs online also emerged as a strong reason (M 2.56; SD1.421) explaining the use of social media for EPL supporters. According to the measure of rate of dispersion of the variable mean with the highest standard deviation emerged as “Social media platforms are more convenient when engaging the clubs as opposed to conventional means” and the variable of the mean with the lowest standard deviation is “It is easier to follow and engage with the club through social media than other platforms.”

Beyond just considering the means and standard deviations, respondents’ scores were correlated to see if there were any relationships between their attitudes for each statement.

This study also involved correlation to determine the relationship brand excitement of watching EPL feeling closer to the clubs, ease of following, adequacy of content and convenience of using social media. The first correlation analysis focused on the relationship between brand equity and brand awareness. The results of the survey show that a strong positive correlation exists between excitement of watching EPL and feeling closer to the clubs (r=0.578; p<0.01). Also, a positive correlation exists between excitement and ease following and engaging with the clubs and brand awareness (r=0.477; p<0.01). A positive correlation exists between brand equity and convenience. The results also revealed that a strong positive correlation exists between feeling closer to the clubs, ease of following and engaging, adequate content and convenience (r=0.578; p<0.01, r=0.600; p<0.01, r=0.700; p<0.01, r=0.603; p<0.01, respectively.

Table 13: Correlation between statements

I find EPL football clubs more exciting to watch and relate to than other leagues

 

I feel closer to the club/players because I follow them on social media It is easier to follow and engage with the club through social media than other platforms The content of information on social is adequate to understand recent news, ranking and transfers of the clubs Social media platforms are more convenient when engaging the clubs as opposed to conventional means
I find EPL football clubs more exciting to watch and relate to than other leagues

 

Pearson Correlation (PC) 1 .578** .477** .702** .614
Sig.-2-tailed .000 .001 .000 000
I feel closer to the club/players because I follow them on social media PC .578** 1 .600** .700** .603**
Sig.-2-tailed .000 .000 .000 .000
It is easier to follow and engage with the club through social media than other platforms PC .477** .600** 1 .387** .425**
Sig.-2-tailed .001 .000 .006 002
The content of information on social is adequate to understand recent news, ranking and transfers of the clubs PC .700** .700** .387** 1 .584**
Sig.-2-tailed .000 .000 006 .000
Social media platforms are more convenient when engaging the clubs as opposed to conventional means PC .614** .603** .425** .584** 1
Sig.-2-tailed
** Significant correlation at the 0.01 level[2-tailed]

 

4.6. Results Summary

This chapter has presented the statistical analysis of the questionnaire data. The first section explored the general information about the participants, indicating that most of the respondents are fairly interested in football with about 30% of the total responses, and a majority of them are male accounting for about 70%. The second section on the general football, indicating most of the respondents (43%) is never interested in watching football in a stadium as they prefer following the football news on social media (46.7%). The third section focused on the English Premier League, with about 50% of the respondents using the internet to watch the matches every week. Over 33% of the respondents support Manchester United followed by Manchester City and Liverpool. The respondents plan to support their team to infinity, indicating a strong sense of loyalty and commitment to the clubs they support. The fourth section focused on social media platforms used by the respondents to support their favourite clubs. Sina Weibo appeared as the most used social media platform that respondents use to follow the football news and events for EPL specific club news, players and table ranking.

The results shows a strong positive correlation between excitement of watching EPL and feeling closer to the clubs (r=0.578; p<0.01). Also, a positive correlation exists between excitement and ease following and engaging with the clubs and brand awareness (r=0.477; p<0.01). A positive correlation exists between brand equity and convenience. The results also revealed that a strong positive correlation exists between feeling closer to the clubs, ease of following and engaging, adequate content and convenience (r=0.578; p<0.01, r=0.600; p<0.01, r=0.700; p<0.01, r=0.603; p<0.01, respectively.

 

 

 

4.7. Discussion

This chapter provides a discussion of findings as determined in the study about the effectiveness of social media on EPL brand in China.

 

4.7.1. General football behaviour

It was established that Chinese fans are fairly interested in football as a general sport as 30% of the respondents exhibited a moderate level of interest on a 5-point Likert scale.  The findings show that football has reached Chinese market as with other corners of Asia. Although football was initially associated with the western culture, the high interest levels indicates that football has gone beyond the cultural and territorial boundaries, and continues to serve as an important promoter of social change (Gong et al., 2015). As football continues to be popular in the world, the positive development in China demonstrates an important market that football clubs should exploit to win the minds and interest of people.

Some of the Chinese football fans had increased interest in the sport and got involved in different ways, including watching live matches in a stadium, watching through media, buying branded merchandise and following through social media platforms. As such, the Chinese football consumers understand the presence, importance and value of football in general (Gong et al., 2015).).

 

4.7.2 English Premier League

Fundamentally, the Chinese are very interested in English football, demystifying the fact that China is an emerging market targeted by Western football clubs. Indeed, more fans are more fans (38.3) interested in the English Premier League than other football matches (30%), showing that Chinese fans would rather watch EPL than other China’s matches. Further, this conclusion is fostered by the fact that none of the respondents indicated experience of watching live matches in a stadium, but managed to watch the matches through different media. The interest in EPL matches has further evidenced the frequency at which fans watch the matches through media, with 46.7% of them following the leagues on at least once a week, with none indicating “never” to have watched a match.

 

The analysis of the measures of dispersion showed that majority of the respondents follow their favourite EPL clubs because the platforms allow them to engage and exchange with their club with ease, in addition to providing a convenience that goes with engaging the clubs. In the review of the literature, this study established that social media is of the ideal platforms used by companies to communicate with customers. The key role of social media platforms is to facilitate exchange among concerned stakeholders (Yazdanparast, Joseph and Muniz, 2016). Customers in the contemporary world use different platforms such as blogs, tweets and sharing status with online individuals and communities of like-mind, or respond to buzz created by opinion leaders. According to Pelamo (2018), the overall interactions and exchanges through social media create a sense of identification with a brand, increasing the level of awareness.

The current study established that EPL clubs, especially Manchester United use social media to create strong brand equity as fans use the platforms to interact with clubs, understand recent events such as transfers and table rankings. Supporters follow their clubs (brands) on social media because of three key reasons. First, the social media platforms allow the fans to receive information about table ranking. Second, the social media platforms allow the fans to receive important information about players and transfers. Third, the social media platforms allow the fans to receive retest information about the club, including team formations, coaches and possible new signing. Lastly, fans depend on social media to engage in competition and polls, including betting. These results are consistent with the study by Floreddu and Cabiddu (2016) which implied that consumers interact with brands through social media to create a feeling that a company is trustworthy, especially when it provides the necessary information and keeping them informed. According to Kilgour, Sasser and Larke (2015), consumers are likely to keep a brand in mind and talk about it when the company keep them informed, provide sufficient and honest information.

 

4.7.3. General social media use

This study established that social media is an important aspect of Chinese online presence. The findings on social media use conformed to the earlier findings by Stockmann and Luo (2017) that social media is an important influencer of consumers’ opinion. Also, as the established different respondents identified with different social media platforms, the research by Stockmann and Luo (2017) the type of social media platform plays a critical in influencing the mind of users.

The use of social media also allows respondents to exchange necessary information with other online users. Although this was not part of the study objectives, the reasons underlying the use of social media explain fans use social media to engage other online users and share experience. According to Hoffman and Fodor (2010), organizations leverage social media platforms such as social media networks, news platforms, virtual blogs, content communities and gaming sites to provide customers with instant services and establish strong brand loyalty. Further, Hoffman and Fodor (2010) assert that organizations exploit social media platforms to foster brand awareness, enhance brand recognition and increase brand loyalty.

As consumers interact with a brand and other online consumers, it influences their perception of the quality of the brand and product. The perception of a product or brand through social media, however, is not assured to people through their revealed identities. Rather, reputation is earned through communicated messages, thoughts and experience regarding a product. Equally, organizations seeking to create or foster their brand image should implement the necessary social media marketing strategies (Jiao et al., 2018).  Online communities and groups form the greatest basis through which brands create an impression to consumers. The groups include individual contacts, friends, family, followers and fans that associate with a particular club or group of interest (Raji, Mohd Rashid and Mohd Ishak, 2018). Consumers using social media follow brands and join communities to meet the needs of identification with desired brands.

 

 

 

4.7.4. Social media with EPL

The analysis of the means shows that majority of the EPL fans use social media platforms because they provide an easy way of engaging the clubs, often through other fans and supporters. Supporting the clubs through social media also comes with convenience. This conforms to the findings by Pöyry et al. (2013) that the use of social platforms for marketing purposes affects the purchasing decisions through the diverse means of accessing the necessary information, especially from others online fans and supporters. Sharing experiences and opinions by online users also form a basis of identification with a brand. Indeed, the works of Celine (2012) established that social media marketing influence consumer decisions based on recommendations from others. This explains why Manchester United is the leading football club in China following the opinion and endorsement by other Chinese fans. Consumers (fans) are considered as more objective than the companies they represent. As such, companies leverage social media to establish a fit between customer expectations and experience. Based on the products and services, customers can form their opinion about a brand and share experience with others, broadening the customer base.

The study established that EPL Clubs promote their brands in China online. Pöyry et al. (2013) emphasised that a consistency of a brand allows a company to maintain a positive experience for online customers. As such, online brand experience involves a mix of important factors such as support service, website content, ease of navigation and convenience (Baird, and Parasnis, 2011). According to the same authors, the use of social has allowed organisations to create strong brands through loyal customers, and help the organisation to excel in the industry. This explains why organisations need to ensure adequate and correct information on their social media platforms to allow consumers to make appropriate decisions.

This study also found out that social media platforms have substantially influenced Chinese fans’ interest on EPL Clubs as brands, and communicate the same to supporters. Organizations in the contemporary world need to acknowledge that online presence, particularly through social media is likely to establish a strong connection with the large base of potential customers, increasing brand awareness, brand loyalty and eventually create strong brand equity (Zailskaite-Jakste and Kuvykaitė (2013). Users with social media presence stand a better chance of meeting other consumers, access to information for a variety of brands and make the most informed purchasing choices. As defined by Yazdanparast, Joseph and Muniz (2016), loyalty refers to the ability of an organisation to create a positive attitude for a brand so as to trigger recurrent purchases.

The study established that social media marketing plays a critical role in influencing a brand in the minds of consumers. One of the key success factors is to use social media as a marketing strategy is to use the right channels that customers spend time (Celine, 2012). Indeed, brand awareness refers to the ability of consumers/fans to recall or recognise a brand in an assortment of different brand or product categories. This study established that some brands such as Manchester United and Manchester City are outstanding in the minds of Chinese fans. According to Lu and Xu (2015), consumers who exhibit awareness of a particular brand in a set of brands often consider the brand as the first priority even if it exhibits lower quality than rival brands. As such, while it is important to maintain the quality of a brand, brand awareness seems to matter most for consumption choices.

The case of EPL and Chinese fans presents three different ways through a brand creates awareness   customers through social media.

Brands need to remain active through different channels if their social media marketing strategy is to be effective. According to Celine (2012), choosing the right marketing channel is contingent on the target group in which a message is intended. This study established that Chinese fans prefer Sina Weibo and Facebook as the most important platforms used to engage the clubs to follow the related news. This finding reveals that while Facebook is the most popular social media platform across the world, Sina Weibo is highly applicable in the Chinese context. Indeed, Hoffman and Fodor (2010) stressed that social media should normally attract a particular group of consumers, and firms should remain active as long as customers are identified. As explained by Pöyry et al, (2013), the advent of Facebook pages makes other conventional sales channels less relevant as customers are often found online. Therefore, consumers depend on particular main motivations to visit online platforms deemed to fulfil particular needs.

Although Facebook came second in this study, it represents an ideal business-to-consumer platform for marketing in the contemporary environment. One of the key challenges that brand encounter in social media marketing relates to the creating individual connections with consumers. This study established that the ability of EPL fans to engage the teams and receive the relevant information partly explains why they prefer social media as opposed to attending live matches. As such, organisations such as Football clubs and brands must consider social media as platforms through which they can engage the customers and extend communication about the brand.

A strong positive correlation was established between excitement to EPL, ease of engaging the clubs through social media, feeling closer to the club, convenience of social using social media and adequacy of information through social media. These findings indicate that for EPL football clubs understand the value of using social media to reach supporters. Indeed, one of the marketing ways through which brands can engage customers is through social media. According to Jiao et al. (2018), brand management through social media can be enhanced in different ways, creating remarkably optimistic outcomes. The authors further assert that customers/supporters are often engaged and conscious, and often corresponds their opinions and thoughts to other customers with whom they share the experience. This I often achieved through social media presence, for example on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Sina Weibo, for the case of China. The content provided to a target audience through these platforms must express positive affection. A happy and satisfied user share experience, attracting other potential clients. As such, the leading popularity of Manchester United as an English football club reflects the careful use of social media to spread the relevant information and engage the Chinese fans in a consistent and cohesive manner. This reflects the essential values of the club to attain a large market share in China.

Yazdanparast et al. (2016) signposted that social media sides are increasingly replacing conventional media such as Newspapers and radio as supporters are becoming fans of the brands through social media. The primary strength of social media relates to the fact that the platform provides consumers with in-depth content about the brand. As such, brands and consumers leverage the convenience provided by social media to engage and share experiences.

 

5.0 – Conclusions

 

This chapter will conclude the dissertation by reiterating the main findings, relative to the research aim and objectives set before discussion of the theoretical contributions, practical implications and recommendations for future research.

4.1. Main Findings

This study aimed to explore Chinese football fandom and engagement with English Premier League clubs on social media. As such, the findings allowed the researcher to address research objectives.  ………………………..

Research Objective 1: To explore Chinese football fans’ interest in EPL football…………………………………….

This study established that majority of respondents exhibited a moderate level of interest in football (n=28; 30%), Chinese fans are, therefore, fairly interested in football, and very interested in football. These results confirmed earlier findings that China is an emerging market of Western football clubs.

 

Research Objective 2: To explore Chinese football fans’ awareness and perceptions of English Premier League clubs.

Indeed, more (38%) fans are interested in English Premier League than football in general. The interest in EPL matches has further evidenced the frequency at which fans watch the matches through media, with 46.7% of them following the leagues on at least once a week, with none indicating “never” to have watched a match. The high interest in EPL explains the increasing adoption of the westerner lifestyle, including football (Lu and Xu, 2015). Also, the results indicate the social media marketing efforts by English football clubs to capitalize on the emerging market in Asia

 

Research Objective 3: To explore Chinese football fans’ engagement with English Premier League clubs on social media.

The preference for social media as a means of following EPL clubs is explained by the perceived strengths of social: Social media allow fans to feel closer to the clubs and players, and the content is adequate to allow them understand and follow the clubs. The study also established that social media are convenient for fans when engaging the clubs

5.2. Theoretical Contributions

Theoretically, this study contributes to the concept of brand management; that social media is one of the increasingly important tools of enhancing the perception of consumers towards a brand. The case of EPL shows that an effective use of social media can allow consumers to identify and create interest in a brand, broadening the base of loyal customers.

5.3. Practical Implications

5.4. Recommendations for EPL Clubs

If the aim of the EPL clubs is to aggressively cultivate a large share of the Chinese market and advocate for the brands, the most important thing to take into account is the social media brand management strategy.

Smart Social Media strategy

EPL clubs can avoid entirely depending on marketing, advertising and typical sales strategies to win the fans through social media as each social media platform presents different opportunities and complexities. Social media has transformed from the typical forms of interacting and posting to include other aspects such as lead generation, marketing and support. As such, it is important for the EPL clubs to formulate a social media strategy deemed necessary to deal with the increasing wave of the online composition. When seeking to maximise brand loyalty, it is important to consider the value that fans can derive from social media. While this study established that ease of using social media, convenience, adequacy of information and feeling closer to the club are the key reasons behind the increased use of social media, it is important for the clubs to devise others ways of inspiring the fans.

Sharing Quality Content

To cultivate a brand on social media, this study establishes that it is critical to share prized content with fans and supporters. EPL should ensure that information accessible to Chinese fans is not only valid, but also quality to establish a strong bond with the brand. EPL clubs can attain this further by enabling communities to join their social media platforms such as Facebook fan pages and ensure only football related content is shared on the platforms to influence the perception of the followers.

Intensified use of social media

EPL clubs should intensify the use of social media because of the identified opportunities and strengths above. The ease of access, appropriateness and transparency makes social media the most applicable platforms of reaching and keeping the fans inspired to follow the clubs. However, preference should be given to Sina Weibo and Facebook as they lead in usage in the case of China. Creating social networks proves to be an effective strategy of attracting and retaining fans. While this study shows that Sina weibo and Facebook are the leading social media platforms used by Chinese football fans, it is important for organisations to consider other platform such as Weixin, Youtube and WeChat.

 

5.5. Recommendations for future research

Future studies should focus on an in-depth investigation of specific club’s brand equity as a measure of their social media effectiveness. Based on the findings and conclusions made in this dissertation, the following are the suggested areas that future studies should address

First, this study used a quantitative survey of fans as the only method. However, in order to ensure that future studies attain an in-depth investigation of the effectiveness of social media on brand equity, a detailed qualitative study should be adopted to gather data from both the focus group and the clubs’ marketing representatives to broaden the understanding on the association between social media and brand equity of EPL clubs.

Second, this dissertation explored two attributes of brand equity (brand loyalty and brand awareness). Future studies should focus on other attributes of brand equity, including brand association and perceived quality to provide a wide perspective of social media and brand equity.

Third, further studies can focus on comparative studies of EPL Clubs to allow for a comprehensive assessment of how clubs can modify their brand management strategies to sustain competitiveness in the market.

Also, given that this study recommended that EPL clubs change and intensify their social media strategies in order to enhance the reliability of their brand image, it is important for future studies to address the different aspects of the digital marketing mix to determine the relevance of social media on customer satisfaction and identification with the brands.

Lastly, the definitive goal of any organisation in a competitive environment is to enhance customer value, translating to forms value. While this is a long-term undertaking, it is important for future studies to focus on value creation through social media as a way of enhancing brand equity.

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