LaLiga’s Wu Lei effect in China on thin ice after Espanyol relegation

Madrid, Jul 17 (efe-epa).- RCD Espanyol’s relegation after 26 consecutive seasons in LaLiga jeopardizes the lucrative impact of Chinese midfielder Wu Lei, who generated interest in the Spanish league in his home nation and is already being courted by several international clubs.

Although the 28-year-old has five months left on his contract, the prospect of playing for clubs such as Wolverhampton or Watford in England or Besiktas in Turkey — all of which are rumored to be interested in signing him — could outweigh the prospect of battling it out in Spain’s second division.

Wu Lei’s impact at Espanyol has been palpable. In the space of a year and a half the forward has played 63 games in all competitions, scoring 11 goals.

His presence has also seen Espanyol attract more Chinese viewers than any other LaLiga side.

Not even Real Madrid or Barcelona have pulled in a bigger Chinese audience than Espanyol during the 2018/19 and the 2019/20 season (up until the coronavirus hiatus in March), according to LaLiga data seen by Efe.

And it’s no small margin either. During the 2019/20 season, Espanyol laid claim to a third of the Chinese audience. The following year, up until the suspension of play, Wu Lei and his teammates had an even greater 40 percent share of viewers.

Wu Lei’s presentation at the club was watched by 40 million viewers on TV and social media and Espanyol’s jersey was soon in high demand. The club sold 10,000 shirts in one month, according to Spanish-Chinese firm Kelme, the team’s sponsor.

His role at Espanyol extended far beyond the pitch. Wu Lei’s image was used in advertising for companies and the Catalan regional tourism board looking to target the Chinese market.

Since his signing with Espanyol, the number of LaLiga followers on Chinese social media platform Weibo shot up from 1.15 million in January 2019 to 2.55 million as of July 2020.

Online searches for Wu Lei peaked during important milestones in his career with the Catalonia-based team, including his debut on 3 February 2019 against Villareal, his first assist during his first home game against Rayo Vallecano and his first goal on 2 March 2019 against Valladolid.

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