The Football Association has delved deep to come up with more than a billion Euros for the TV rights of the Chinese Super League (CSL). Most recently they received fewer than ten million per season.
During his state visit to Great Britain at the end of last year, China’s President Xi Jinping got a taste for the English Premier League when he visited the Etihad Stadium in Manchester and met players and ex-players of the two local rivals, City and United. Football fan Xi visibly enjoyed himself. He was even persuaded to pose for a selfie with City striker Sergio Agüero.
The Chinese Super League is a quite different kettle of fish, however. The best of the best from around the world play there only in the twilight of their careers. But despite that the Chinese League signed a new TV contract at the end of October opening new dimensions. CSL will cash almost 1.15 billion Euros for the marketing of its TV pictures in the next five years, which means about 230 million per season. That’s still far from what the Bundesliga or the Premier League receive, but compared to the last season that finished at the end of 2015, it means a plus of more than 3,000 (three thousand) percent.
In the future English football, the Spanish La Liga and the American professional Basketball League NBA will together get less per year from TV rights in China than the CLS. Considering the enthusiasm of the Chinese for Europe’s top clubs and US basketball this is a striking statistic. No wonder that the responsible officials of the Chinese Football Association were in very high spirits during the signing of the contract. “That’s a historic day making us confident that we will make the CSL one of the top leagues in the world”, said Deputy Chairman Zhang Jian. The money should mainly go towards promoting youth development. The scouting system is inadequate, as is the training of coaches in China.
China Sports Media Co Ltd. is the rights holder, a comparatively unknown sports agency from the Peoples’ Republic, part of the empire of media mogul Li Ruigang. The company beat notable competitors. The public TV station CCTV was bidding, as was the Swiss marketing agency Infront, bought by a Chinese investor some time ago. But these contenders all dropped out at half the final amount. Observers are asking themselves why China Sports Media put such a large package on the table in order to purchase a product that showed such a lack of quality in the past years.
The web portal China Sports Insider considers the purchase a game of pure chance. For, apart from the obvious quality deficits of the League, the business model for selling the pictures also seems risky. Pay-per-view has no tradition at all in China and failed at comparative attempts. But the new rights holders obviously believe in their success, even though they reckon on a profit only at the end of their term of contract. “This big investment is based on our conviction that the value of CSL will grow. The country has great ambitions to promote sports and to reform the management and administration of football operations in China”, boss Li said. It is said that in England they pay more for the TV rights and still earn money.
England is a ripe football market, but China’s football fans are moody, particularly considering their enthusiasm for their own league. But since the government has been supporting the development of football, for instance by introducing it as a school subject, various Chinese entrepreneurs have attracted attention by investing in the sport. The entrepreneurs deny political interests for their investments. They say they see the potential in sport.
What indeed speaks volumes for CSL is the mass of football fans in the Peoples’ Republic. Should clubs and Association remain untroubled by scandals in the long term, it should be easy to bind people better to the CSL. In the past China’s football was rocked several times by corruption and manipulation scandals. Now the officials, backed up by new millions, have to prove they can keep their house in order in the future. Chinese clubs have recently produced positive headlines on the pitch. FC Taobao Guangzhou Evergrande won the Asian Champions League at the end of 2015 for the second time in three years.