English Premier League soccer giants Manchester United have retained top spot as the most popular team online in China, according to a new report.
The Red Card study analyses the influence of top European clubs on China's social media. It takes data from Chinese social media platforms WeChat and Weibo, as well as audience figures from live streams of games and how the respective club websites and apps perform in the country to produce its annual report.
United took over from Bayern Munich as China’s most popular European club last year, with the German club falling behind Real Madrid in the 2018 rankings. Arsenal and Liverpool have both been bumped down a place to fourth and fifth respectively.
Manchester United media executive Phil Lynch said: "With over 107 million followers, China is one of Manchester United's most important markets and we have a long history of innovation and fan engagement in the region.
"Through data analysis, geo-specific content creation and on-the-ground activities, we continue to be the most followed football club on China's major social media platforms: Sina Weibo and WeChat."
Germany's Bundesliga remains the most influential league online, and Barcelona's Lionel Messi moved ahead of rival Cristiano Ronaldo to become the player with the most social engagement.
The Argentine accumulated more than one million new followers in China in 2017. It came as the Barcelona star toured the country last year, attending events as well as announcing plans for a US$22 million ‘Messi Experience Park’. Messi is also a global brand ambassador for Chinese electronic company Huawei.
United forward Anthony Martial is the third most popular player, team-mate Paul Pogba is fourth, and ex-Red Devils captain Wayne Rooney is fifth.
Several European teams have opened permanent offices in China over the past year, including Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, and VfL Wolfsburg.