TV rights for soccer sell for 8b yuan
Amid high expectations to improve soccer’s profile in the country, China Sports Media Co Ltd announced on Wednesday the purchase of broadcasting rights for the Chinese Super League, China’s top-tier professional soccer league, for 8 billion yuan ($1.26 billion) over the next five years.
The television rights for the 2015 season fetched only 60 million yuan.
Ma Chengquan, the chairman of CSL, said the increased revenue will be put into youth training programs, improvement of club facilities and the upgrading of broadcasting technology to improve every aspect of the league.
Aiming to become a world soccer power, China approved a national soccer reform plan in February, setting a goal to qualify for the World Cup again by professionalizing the game’s bureaucratic management and promoting youth participation.
The plan followed a national strategy set by the State Council in October last year to boost the sports industry’s gross output to 5 trillion yuan by 2025 — almost 16 times the value in 2012.
President Xi Jinping, an avid soccer fan, is determined to improve the sport’s level and image on the world stage — a show of interest that has boosted the prosperity of the soccer market and prompted more investment in soccer at the grassroots level.
“It’s a historical day. It boosts our confidence to build CSL into one of the top leagues in the world,” said Zhang Jian, vice-chairman of the Chinese Football Association.
The CSL will enjoy a huge annual share of 1.6 billion yuan starting next season, more than 30 times the current figure, while exceeding the combined media revenue in China of the National Basketball Association, the English Premier League and the Spanish La Liga.
Li Ruigang, chairman of China Media Capital, the holding equity fund of China Sports Media, was confident about producing profitable results.
“Such a big investment came from our strong confidence in the growth of CSL’s value as the elite product of Chinese soccer amid the country’s ambition to push the sports industry as well as soccer management reform,” Li said at the deal-signing ceremony in Beijing on Wednesday.
The signing will give China Sports Media exclusive rights to produce live signals as well as programs of all the 240 CSL games next season and to distribute them to multiple media outlets.
Li Yidong, executive chairman of CSL, shrugged off the notion that the price for the rights was too high, saying that media rights of overseas leagues such as the English Premier League sell for much higher.
“The unbelievable price of EPL’s TV rights indicates that we have an untapped potential to grow,” he said.
The EPL signed a joint deal with Sky and British Telecom in February for the TV rights over the next three years worth $7.8 billion.
However, Mark Dreyer, a British observer of Chinese sports, said that the Chinese league is nowhere near the world leader in competitive quality, so a comparison of the two leagues’ media revenues is meaningless.
“There is a much more mature market (in Britain) where people pay much money in pay-per-view mode, whereas the Chinese don’t. It’s definitely improving but still lags far behind,” said Dreyer, who now runs the blog China Sports Insider.
Despite enjoying the biggest number of fans worldwide, Chinese soccer has been struggling from disappointing international results and a shrinking youth talent pool since its first and only World Cup appearance in 2002.
However, a national crackdown against gambling and corruption in the game has helped the domestic league regain momentum, highlighted by Guangzhou Evergrande’s victory in the 2013 AFC Champions League.
Meanwhile, other Chinese media groups are also rushing into the sports rights market.
LeTV Sports, the sports arm of China’s major online video company LeTV Holdings Co Ltd, also unveiled on Wednesday that it has inked a deal with the Asian Football Confederation to acquire full media rights on the mainland for all AFC events, including the Asian Cup and the Champions League, from 2017 to 2019.
LeTV’s has already purchased the rights to air EPL games exclusively in Hong Kong for a reported $400 million for the next three years.
Liu Jianhong, chief content officer of LeTV Sports, said the market value of professional sports has long been underestimated.
“The sports industry will take great leaps forward to bring more commercial benefits,” he said.
The sports industry will take great leaps forward to bring more commercial benefits.”
Wu Di and Xinhua contributed to this story.