January 9 – The timing is presumably co-incidence but having cast off the oppressive shadow of Jose Mourinho’s management regime for the more free-flowing joy of Ole Gunnar Solsjaer (albeit interim), Manchester United has announced it will open three “experience centres” in China by 2020.
The first centres, developed in partnership with Chinese property developer Harves, will include one adjacent to Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Others will be in Shanghai and Shenyang.
A club statement said the centres will offer “interactive and immersive experiences, using state of the art technology to bring Manchester United to life.” Venues will include themed restaurants, club shops and allow fans to “experience the thrill of a match day at Old Trafford as well as learn the history and heritage of English football’s most successful and storied club.”
“We first visited China in 1975 and we’re proud to have seen our fan base in the region grow and develop their passion for United over the years,” said Manchester United’s group managing director Richard Arnold.
“This new concept will allow them to get closer to the club they love.”
Man Utd reckon they have 107 million fans in China including 9.3 million followers on social media channel Weibo, the largest of any Premier League club, including Manchester City (8.3 million followers) who have Chinese ownership.
China has become fertile ground for Europe’s big leagues and clubs and in many respects Manchester United is one of the slower clubs to put down serious roots in the country. Last year Arsenal opened a club-themed sports bar and restaurant in Shanghai, PSG have a similar venue that also includes football pitches, while Barcelona have opened a huge academy and experience centre at Mission Hills.
Italy’s Inter Milan, owned by China’s Jiangsu Group, has expanded via the opening of multiple soccer schools, while Germany’s leading clubs have similarly worked their way into China via coaching initiatives.
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