I had originally planned for my first article to take a comprehensive look at the Chinese game and raise all the issues which have been integral to the recent rise of the beautiful game in China, but after realising the time that would need to be put in to such an article I have chosen to start off with looking at something that has been integral in the growth of every modern sports league around the world, TV.
The spate of headlines made by the Chinese Super League (CSL) over the winter transfer window marks the moment most around the world started to consider China as more than an outpost of the football world was very definitely triggered by a humongous television deal. In September 2015, Chinese sports media group Ti’ao Power committed to a pay a whopping 8 billion yuan (over $1 Billion) for the exclusive broadcasting rights to CSL for a period of 5 years.
This originally seems insignificant in comparison to other global sports leagues such as the Premier League’s most recent £8.7 Billion sale of rights for 3 seasons. However, as you probably already this is an unfair comparison between a League which has already reached maturity in a commercial sense (though not to say that income won’t increase in the future) and a League in the early stages of development.
Rather, I think the size of the recent CSL TV deal can best be appreciated by first considering the current deal is 20x the previous deal and considering for the initial Premier League television contract (which was also for 5 years) was £253.5 million. That means that the current CSL TV deal is somewhere between 3 and 4 times bigger than the initial Premiership TV deal. Even after taking in to account inflation in the UK over the period the initial Premiership deal was only worth £491 million. Which still makes the current CSL deal close to double that of the Premiership at a comparative stage of development.
Each team’s share of the pot and precise revenue from this deal has not been made public, however, one thing that can be said is that it has contributed to a buoyant attitude in the CSL, so buoyant in fact that close to £300 million was spent in the winter transfer window.
I am not trying to pretend this huge outlay on players is purely a well accounted for response to an increase in TV revenue and that there aren’t other reasons. However, I do think the TV deal is a very important factor. Not only have clubs revenues increased from the deal, but I also think there is definitely a “build it and they will come” effect which the media are experts at. The fact so much money has been spent on the broadcasting rights has made media outlets and sports fans around the world turn round and take notice. Perhaps even more important at this point in time though is it has made the whole of one of the world’s most populous and richest nations turn round and take notice.
The sheer scale of this deal means that it will probably be harder to avoid in China than follow. Just think for a moment, if you paid a way above the odds for the rights, wouldn’t you make sure they were watched at any opportunity and the rights were spun off at any possibility? Paying so much has in a way created a situation in which Tiao Power must promote their investment at any opportunity and in any way possible if they are to get a profitable return. As it turns out, this is exactly what they have done.
In this respect I would say the Chinese are more than up to the task. Even though it is only relatively recently that China has operated a more or less market economy in many respects, they have learned from the capitalist west and then quickly superseded it. I would say this is nowhere truer than with mobile technology and new media. It’s areas like these that are set to facilitate the most growth and soon enough may even be a case study for the future development of the Premiership in it’s increasingly difficult task of revenue expansion.
For instance, aside from the traditional outlet of TV, China currently has multiple online networks which have significant sporting arms (such as LeTv or Sina), these provide live football streaming as well as regular highlights packages and sport new shows. This type of modern media is particularly popular in China, especially with the younger adults and it appears they are the initial target audience. Also, luckily enough, it is precisely these people that will populate China’s rapidly expanding ranks of the middle-class and will have an increasing amount of disposable income to spend on whatever they please. Seen in this way, the rights to broadcast what happens on the pitch combined with the possibilities technology offers can potentially help the CSL grow at breakneck speed in both the short and long-terms. If this is anywhere close to reality then the CSL has every chance of becoming a significant global league, not just a flash in the pan.
It is truly a multimedia bonanza, which, along with an improving standard of football, a large football supporting public and one world class hype machine is set to continue growing, even when it reaches it’s own borders. Indeed, it is already having an influence abroad, which is evidenced by it’s recent appearance on the schedules of French and Brzailian television. To get on to be broadcast in these nations is no mean feat, after all they are both traditional football powerhouses which have very vibrant domestic leagues and expect high standards in the football they consume. At this rate it will not be long before the CSL pops up on British TV and it will be standard for each media outlet to have it’s own set of Chinese football experts.
We in England have witnessed firsthand the effect a huge broadcaster (Sky) can have in turning a lagging product in to a global brand. Admittedly, English football was starting from a higher plateau in terms of quality and brand awareness, but when the Premier League’s fortunes are tracked against the once seemingly impregnable power of Serie A, the success was astounding. This is what the CSL in conjunction with the Chinese media outlets hope to achieve and they seem to be going the right way about it. Of course, it will not happen overnight, but they have caught everyone’s attention which is the first step. Now they have your attention, they will make sure the revolution will be televised and what’s more it will be televised on a television close to you.