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How an international badminton star is using social media and Mandarin to grow his reach (and his value to his sponsors)

Viktor Axelsen, a Dane, is one of the world’s leading badminton players.  At the 2016 Rio Olympics, he won bronze, in 2017, Axelsen won the World Championship in Glasgow and in March 2020, he won the prestigious tournament All England Open, making history as the first European and Dane to lift the men’s singles trophy since 1999.

“So, what has that got to do with growing my profile generating funding for your sporting endeavours”? I hear you ask.  An awful lot as 26-year old Viktor Axelsen is doing a sterling job of branding himself across social media and using his language skills to engage with the world’s biggest badminton market, China.

Axelsen is the object of fervent support from an impressive number of Chinese badminton fans. 

His exalted status is not merely explained by the sport’s long-standing popularity in the country. Early on in his career, Axelsen made the unusual – but highly commendable – decision to learn Mandarin, and is by now fluent in the language, leaving a lasting impression on Chinese fans, media and fellow players alike. 

He says, “people have been really supportive and interested in how I’ve been doing things… The fact that I can now speak to the Chinese players and also to players from other countries is nice. It allows me to get way more friends. In Denmark, people have been really surprised. They speak more about my Mandarin than my badminton almost! So that’s fun. Maybe in the future, I’ll take on another language, but right now badminton and Mandarin are my priorities. I still have some room to improve!”

Adding another string to his linguistic bow opens up exciting possibilities for Axelsen once his playing days are over. That day is far into the future, but he is unlikely to be short on commercial opportunities when the time comes. “I haven’t thought too much in detail about what I want to do after my career, but I think the fact that I can speak a few languages now and I have an understanding of life in China and how they do things there, and how we do things in Europe, and what the differences are, I think that might be helpful after my career,” he says.

After his win at the 2019 All England finals, Axelsen thanked the audience in Danish, English and Mandarin

Another key aspect of his popularity is his wide use of social media.  Below is an interview with Axelsen and his Chinese coach on the Olympic Channel.

He has also developed the VA Academy on Youtube which is proving a massive hit with his fans and badminton players across. A video on how to improve your smash, produced in October 2020 has been viewed by 268.000 people.  Great stuff for him and his sponsors  

The VA Academy is proving very popular across the world

Axelsen also has his webshop called the Viktor Axelsen Collection. He was inspired because many fans asked him for his merchandise, so in the end, he decided to start a webshop where fans can get it.

Some more exposure and revenue

Another important platform in Victor Axelsen’s social media engagement programme is Instagram where 362.000 people follow Viktor Axelsen 安赛龙 🇩🇰Badminton Player

The postings are both of personal nature like the one from October 2020 announcing the birth of their daughter and 63.000 sent their congratulations

Both, of course, he also posts about his achievements on the badminton court
But, he is also active on Twitter with followers

I think we all agree that these are unprecedented times for all, including budding individual sports enthusiasts.

So what can a ‘normal’ swimmer, athlete, or cyclist learn from Viktor Axelsen and his massive success on and off the badminton court:

Engage with your key communities, and if possible, speak their language (not necessarily Mandarin!) What about running training videos on Youtube (How to improve your cycling sprint or How pedaling can help your horse develop rhythmic suppleness in his back (for horse dressage enthusiasts))

Be

  • honest and engaging – people can spot someone who pretends to be something they are not, from miles away
  • Tell stories, tell stories, tell stories
  • Keep going, be consistentHopefully, this has given you some food for thought

Good luck!

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