Almost 10,000 kilometres away from the Camp Nou, the excitement of the derby between Barcelona and RCD Espanyol de Barcelona was being felt at the Shanghai Sky Banquet in the Chinese city. Around 700 fans, wearing the colours of the Blaugrana or the Blanquiazules, turned out for an event that celebrated the growing popularity of both clubs across Asia, supported by an increasingly strong alliance between the national leagues of China and Spain.
Both FC Barcelona and RCD Espanyol de Barcelona supported the ‘viewing party’ event, organised alongside LaLiga and the Chinese Super League (CSL), creating an experience that showcased the best of both Chinese and Spanish football while revealing the clubs’ commitment to the country.
“This event gives us the chance to bring Espanyol closer to Chinese fans so that they can understand more about how we live football in Spain,” said Antoni Alegre, Director of Sponsoring, Hospitality and New Business at RCD Espanyol de Barcelona.
“By being able to meet up and be in a group of 700 people supporting their respective teams, they can feel the match atmosphere in a different way and take in the excitement that Spanish football offers.”
“It’s always a pleasure to be here in China and doing it together with LaLiga and Espanyol,” added Toni Claveria, Director of Barcelona’s academy projects in Asia-Pacific, added.
“Barcelona’s commitment with China is stronger than ever and projects like the one we have in Mission Hills, with comprehensive training for kids based on our club’s philosophy and values, prove it.”
Ahead of Barcelona’s 2-0 victory, the giant screen also showed the CSL match between Hebei and Shanghai SIPG, the former club of Wu Lei, who joined RCD Espanyol de Barcelona in January. Supporting local football as well as Spanish football is a key part of the relationship between LaLiga and CSL, which signed a new working agreement earlier this year to promote both competitions as they continue to grow in popularity around the world.
Dong Zheng, the General Director of the CSL, noted that the increasing collaboration between the CSL and LaLiga would continue to generate "opportunities of cooperation for the development of grassroots football in China and the growth of the competition”.
Sergi Torrents, LaLiga’s Managing Director for the Greater China Region, added: “This season we've been able to hold events for two of the most important games in our league, El Clásico and now the Barcelona derby, for the Chinese fans. This, along with the game we've seen in the CSL, not only strengthens our connections with the local fans, but also bolsters our collaboration with the CSL and allows us to continue contributing to the growth and development of football in the country.”
Fans at the Shanghai event also had the chance to experience new advances in virtual reality, courtesy of LaLiga’s partnership with Samsung and Mediapro. Via VR headsets, fans were taken on an immersive journey through the history of the Barcelona derby, a fixture that attendees now know a lot more about.
Although Wu Lei’s new team fell to defeat, it was a memorable occasion for Chinese fans to watch one of their country’s leading players take on global stars such as Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez for the first time. Wu Lei’s transfer to Spain has generated a considerable amount of interest from Chinese fans, as evidenced by the 83 percent growth in the number of followers of LaLiga’s account on Weibo, the Chinese microblogging network.
“The response of the Chinese fans to Wu Lei’s arrival encourages us to keep working to build new bridges between Spain and China, but always keeping our identity in mind,” Alegre added.
“Our future plans are to understand the Chinese market as well as possible, to help develop Chinese football and to bring about the emergence of more Wu Leis, who will hopefully join with us to strengthen both the club and Chinese football.”