(Reuters) – Juventus forward Cristiano Ronaldo continues to be the most influential soccer player online in China, while Barcelona are the most dominant club, according to a report.
The annual ‘Red Card’ report, released by digital marketing agency Mailman, saw Ronaldo beat long-time rival Lionel Messi and Neymar to the top spot for a second year in a row.
The report found that while digital engagement with players has shrunk 15% in 2019, Portuguese forward Ronaldo was one of the few players to see both his Weibo engagement and follower growth increase from the previous year.
“I am very pleased with this award,” Ronaldo said in a statement. “I know that I have a huge part of fans in China and it means a lot to be on top of the table for the second year in a row.”
Barcelona topped the club standings, climbing from fifth place to overtake Spanish rivals Real Madrid.
Chelsea took third spot to become the most influential English club in China, leapfrogging traditional heavyweights Manchester United and Liverpool.
In the league rankings, the English Premier League finished well ahead of Spain’s La Liga and the German Bundesliga.
China is now the Premier League’s most lucrative overseas market, paying 564 million pounds ($737.54 million) for a three-year TV rights deal.
Notably, Arsenal, Bayern Munich, and Liverpool did not visit the region during their off-season break and dropped down the club rankings.
The report referred to brands such as Arsenal and American-based basketball league NBA learning “a difficult lesson” in 2019, with their social media activity making a negative impact in China.
Arsenal playmaker Mesut Ozil had criticised China’s treatment of its Uighur Muslims, prompting a social media backlash in the country against the club.
The NBA is trying to repair damaged relations with China after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey voiced support on Twitter for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.