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July 23 2021 9.04pm

How Palace have already won fans in the largest emerging markets

June 20 2020

Crystal Palace (Photo: Andy Roberts)

Crystal Palace (Photo: Andy Roberts)

Crystal Palace may not be one of the biggest clubs in England, but they have done plenty to earn a dedicated fan base at home and abroad, writes Nigel Blake.

The famous eagle logo and striking red-and-blue kit is known across football communities around the world, but most notably in the markets that all Premier League clubs are trying to break into.

Already the most popular sport in the world, football continues to grow in popularity into two of the largest emerging markets: China and the United States.

China has long been intrigued by football, but it’s not until quite recently that the Premier League has really started to climb towards its potential popularity in the nation of around 1.4 billion people.

The United States is the largest commercial sports market in the world, and yet it has historically been immune to the allures of the beautiful game. Now, with the MLS on the rise and widespread access to Premier League broadcasts, the US is becoming a hotbed for football fans.

While the likes of Manchester United, Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Juventus are making very concerted efforts to become the big names in these potentially very lucrative nations, Crystal Palace have long held fandom in China and the US.

It’s made easy in America

USA football

The United States has bred a very dedicated and passionate fan base for sports over the decades, with those who enjoy a sport immersing themselves in fandom. Palace alerted themselves to the vast American audience back in 2000 and 2001 by signing Gregg Berhalter from Cambuur-Leeuwarden and Jovan Kirovski from Sporting Lisbon.

Both Berhalter and Kirovski played for the United States Men’s National Team, being among a select few plying their trade abroad or in an elite-level competition. They may have only combined for 50 appearances and six goals between the defender and forward until they were moved on in 2002, but their moves brought ample American attention to the then-Division One side.

Now football, and particularly Premier League football, is surging in the United States, with Palace already a known club in the country. In the state of Colorado, there’s a devout group of Palace fans that meet-up under the banner of ‘Colorado Palace’ to watch games at their local. One fan claims that their ties to the team come from the club’s “unique comeback story and the amazing support".

There are many more fans spread across the continent-sized country, with the CPFC in the USA Supporters page on Facebook indicating over 1,300 followers.

Becoming a fan of a club while in the US is made quite easy by the sports culture, heavy television coverage, and even the extracurricular activities that fans can enjoy around the sport, such as backing their favourite teams on trusted websites.

It all helps to create an environment that encourages fans to seek out new teams like Crystal Palace and become hardcore fans.

Opening up to China in the 90s

China stadium

Way back in 1998, Palace made waves by reeling in two Chinese defenders: Jihai Sun and Fan Zhiyi. At the time, while playing for Shanghai Greenland Shenhua, Fan was revered as an almost god-like figure among Chinese football fans.

He had made a big name for himself domestically and with the national team, so when he moved to English football, his supporters followed the action. At the time, it was reported that around 100 million people tuned in to watch Fan and Sun make their debuts against Bury.

Since then, clubs have tried but struggled to bring in top Chinese talents and then put them in their starting XIs. Four years after the pioneering duo came to south London, Li Tie and Li Weifeng came to Everton, followed by Dong Fangzhou joining Manchester United but to little avail.

Fan quickly became a favourite at Palace, putting the club on the map for fans in China. Now, the Selhurst Park residents are looking to reaffirm their ties with the vast nation.

The Premier League has become big business in China over the last decade – helped by the quality of their top domestic league becoming stronger – with Chinese brands looking to make ties with clubs to establish themselves in the country.

Chinese football fan community app Dongqiudi, which boasts over 3 million daily active users, has become the official sleeve partner of Crystal Palace.

While the move was made to advertise Dongqiudi, it shows the ongoing appeal of Crystal Palace to Chinese fans, and it ties the club to a fan community app, which will hopefully further cultivate a fan base.

As the Premier League looks to excel its global presence and football becomes more popular around the world, Crystal Palace has already established itself in two potentially massive markets.

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