International sports stars are creating more excitement among their already solid fan base in China by reaching out to them on social media.
Citing the advantages of interactive and instant communication, an increasing number of foreign sports celebrities have set up micro blog accounts, hoping to strengthen emotional ties with their Chinese fan base.
The latest was NBA star Kobe Bryant, who on Friday opened his personal account on Sina Weibo, the most popular micro-blogging platform in China. The number of his followers had rocketed to more than 300,000 on Friday afternoon.
"Valentine's Day sneaks ready to break Clippers hearts. Big game tonight" is the only message he has left so far, but it triggered more than 50,000 comments in the hours before a game between his team, the Los Angeles Lakers, against the Los Angeles Clippers.
"It's definitely good news for Chinese fans to have Kobe joining in, as weibo could break the limits of time and space to make him more accessible to Chinese diehards," Zhan Sheng, Sina's sports-related micro blog executive, said on Friday.
Promoted by other active celebrity users such as former New York Knicks guard Stephon Marbury and former NBA scoring champion Tracy McGrady, micro blogs are expected to connect more stars with Chinese fans.
"More will come, and that's for sure," Zhan said. "Kobe wasn't the first and won't be the last. They consider it a shortcut to reach the fans while expanding their impact."
Joining a glittering cast, which also includes Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant and Russian tennis sensation Maria Sharapova, Bryant will gain more fans in China by posting on his micro blog, said Wang Pengfeng, senior basketball editor of Sina.com.
"It's a win-win business. Kobe is a typical case as he has drawn more attention here while we are promoting our brands overseas," Wang said.
Bryant's fan pages on Sina Weibo offered a warm welcome to the Lakers star.
One of them, "Home of Kobe", has more than 200,000 followers. Along with other sites, it posted a welcome message for Bryant and encouraged fans to leave comments for him, promising to translate some of the remarks.
"Hello, Black Mamba, welcome to SINA WEIBO. It's been a long time for Chinese fans to wait for this moment," said a comment on the page.
According to Wang, Sina Weibo had more than 400 million users by the end of 2012 while covering more than 60 percent of the country's micro-blogging market.
More than 200 employees are hired to maintain the site while executives work to persuade renowned figures from all walks of life to join the platform.
China's first Grand Slam tennis champion Li Na, debut major golf winner Feng Shanshan and hurdler Liu Xiang spearheaded the big group of athlete micro-bloggers.
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