Ball Out of Play
A nation of football lovers, China lacks a team strong enough to reach the FIFA World Cup
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UPDATED: July 1, 2014 NO. 27 JULY 3, 2014
'Made-in-China' Reaches Fever Pitch
Though the national team failed to make it, numerous Chinese products have found their way to Brazil during the 2014 World Cup
By Deng Yaqing

CHINESE AD JOINS THE FEVER: Jackson Martinez of Colombia controls the ball during a 2014 FIFA World Cup match in Cuiaba, Brazil on June 24. The billboard for a Chinese company Yingli Solar is on display during the match (CFP)

Enthusiasm for the beautiful game has rarely burned so brightly as it did at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. During the matches, football fans waved miniature flags of their countries, donned multicolored fluffy hairpieces and shook their caxirolas, percussion instruments specially designed in a bid to rival 2010's vuvuzela. Fuleco the Armadillo, the official mascot of the World Cup, whipped up visitors from all corners of the globe into frenzy. However, unknown to the crowd, all of this celebratory merchandise, and even Fuleco himself, originated from China.

When cameras turned to the football stadium, the eight Chinese characters of Yingli Solar's slogan flashed on the advertising board in the arena. The Chinese solar company provided 27 sets of solar panels to power all of the stadium lighting masts in the cities hosting the World Cup.

Moreover, subways developed by China CNR Corp. Ltd. will ferry millions of travelers between Rio's central station and Maracana Stadium. "For the 2016 Rio Olympics, 80 percent of the public transportation vehicles will be supplied by China," said Wang Yong, chief engineer of CNR.

The future's bright

For Chinese entrepreneurs with international ambitions, the World Cup represents a chance to shine. "Its extensive coverage, high reseeding rate and great quantities of passionate fans allow Yingli to promote its brand in emerging markets," Liang Tian, public relations director of Yingli, told Beijing Review.

At both the 2010 South Africa and 2014 Brazil World Cup, Yingli has been the sole Chinese company among six FIFA partners, eight FIFA World Cup sponsors and eight national supporters. After its sponsorship of the 2010 World Cup, its sales soared to 1.06 gigawatts (GW) the same year, and tripled over the following three years. Liang predicted its sales in 2014 will hit 4 GW due to the international brand promotion.

Aside from that, in a historic first, the World Cup will be powered by solar energy with Yingli Solar panels supplying electricity to Arena Pernambuco and the Maracana Stadium.

This will ensure that Yingli has its day in the sun marketing-wise. As an official FIFA World Cup Sponsor, Yingli's advertisement will be shown during all 64 matches, for at least eight minutes per match, in all 12 of Brazil's World Cup stadiums. At the same time, it also enjoys the right to place its company logo next to the FIFA World Cup Official Emblem to advertise its products, ensuring the company will not be left languishing in the shade.

Of course, all of these privileges didn't come cheap; a hefty sponsorship fee had to be paid by Yingli. Liang declined to shed light on the specific figure, citing its agreement with FIFA, but did disclose that the average marketing cost per watt is actually low given its large shipments of photovoltaic (PV) modules.

Such a sunny outlook belies the difficulties Chinese solar companies face on the international front. Recently, solar trade disputes with the United States and the EU have forced China's PV industry to undergo restructuring. Following the U.S. decision to impose tariffs ranging from 31.14 percent to 249.96 percent on PV products imported from China, the European Commission pegged the floor price for Chinese solar imports at 0.56 euro ($0.74) per watt and imposed an export quota of 7 GW on Chinese manufacturers.

These measures have undoubtedly cast a shadow over the industry. "Amid its plight, Yingli should take the initiative to explore new markets. In the course of its evolution, the company has expanded its presence from eight countries to more than 50 countries," said Liang.

Sponsoring the World Cup reflects current trends in the Chinese PV industry's global gameplan, which is shifting the spotlight from traditional U.S. and European markets to emerging markets including Brazil, said Liu Chongyuan, a public relations officer from Yingli.

Climbing the value chain

In fact, Chinese companies have long been involved in making products for the world football event. In Yiwu, the world's largest wholesale center for small commodities and accessories, the level of activity has kicked into overdrive owing to huge demand related to the 2014 World Cup.

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