TV rights for soc­cer sell for 8b yuan

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By SUN XIAOCHEN in Bei­jing sunx­i­aochen@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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.

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