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Volume 23 No. 18
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NFL teams go deep with Chinese marketing efforts

The Steelers have hired a bilingual Carnegie Mellon University student as a reporter who only does Chinese-language reports on the team. Rams rookie safety Taylor Rapp is drawing on his Chinese heritage to lead the team’s growing outreach strategy to the world’s most populous nation.

Three years after the NFL hired a company to make 32 team pages on the Chinese social media site Weibo, more teams are taking the reins on their own. The uptick in club-level investment is critical to the league’s vision, said Henry Hodgson, the NFL’s vice president of international marketing. 

“People are going to fall in love with the star players and the clubs, not so much the league without those two things,” he said.

The Rams increased their marketing strategy after drafting Taylor Rapp, whose mother was born in China.
Photo: getty images
The Rams increased their marketing strategy after drafting Taylor Rapp, whose mother was born in China.
Photo: getty images
The Rams increased their marketing strategy after drafting Taylor Rapp, whose mother was born in China.
Photo: getty images

In 2016, the NFL secured Mailman, a digital/social agency based in China, to build 32 club pages. Mostly, those have been landing spots for other club content originally created for Western social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

But since the Patriots started doing a China-centric monthly studio show in October 2018 called Foxborough TV and launched the Tom Brady China Show, a monthly series, others have joined in. In addition to the Rams and Steelers, the Cowboys are ramping up a social content strategy. Still, there’s a direct line from original content to fan response in the world’s largest market, said Gideon Clark, Mailman’s sports client director, and most of the league isn’t doing that yet. “There’s a real chance for some of these teams to separate themselves,” he said.

The Rams’ first customized social content for Weibo and the China market was in the days leading up to the Super Bowl, believing the globally distributed game was a good starting point. It was a success that led to talk of a bigger China strategy, which got a boost when the team drafted Rapp in the second round last April, said Marissa Daly, vice president of media.

SOCIAL CONNECTIONS

 

Total engagement on Weibo, China’s main social media platform

1. Patriots
2. Rams
3. Seahawks
4. Cowboys
5. Steelers

Fastest growth in new followers over last 3 months

1. Cowboys
2. Rams
3. Patriots
4. Texans
5. Steelers

Source: Mailman

Rapp, whose mother was born in China, has starred in videos called Un-Rapp’d that blend a conventional rookie-year storyline with cultural elements, such as learning to make Chinese dumplings from his grandmother. Cameras were there when the football team from heavily Asian American Granada Hills Charter High School joined him for a walkthrough before the Saints game, and they’ll be there again for his planned trip to China after the season. 

“Taylor has become the tentpole on which we are pushing our China content strategy, but that’s not all we’re doing,” Daly said. “We’re working with Mailman to come up with weekly or biweekly content we’re producing exclusively for them, and we’re working with them to make sure the subtitles and topics are correct and relevant.”

The Steelers believe they are the only team doing Chinese-language video originally, said Ryan Huzjak, vice president of sales and marketing. It’s shot in Pittsburgh, but edited in China. The team also ran a contest, and will soon announce the identity of two Chinese fans who have been invited to the Monday night matchup with the Dolphins on Oct. 28.

For now, the team is just building engagement with hopes of a later payoff. “We’re not trying to drive sales in China, but ultimately the expansion of our fan base into a size of market like China is very appealing for us,” Huzjak said.