China Digest | Report outlines football passions; future CSL transfer trends; rumoured United interest; and more

Weekly round-up of sports business news from the Chinese sports industry.

Report outlines football passions

A new survey says that Manchester United, the English Premier League and Cristiano Ronaldo are most popular among Chinese football fans in their respective categories across European soccer. The report from consultancy Brand Finance notes that pre-season tournaments and meet-and-greets are both valuable to clubs, but warns “the more fanatical the fans are, the more clubs they support”, underlining that the concept of a fan in China is often very different to the notion in the west.

Readers should of course be careful with stats from reports like these. For example, Brand Finance’s report – which surveyed 2,800 people in 10 cities – claims 57 per cent of all Chinese fans have bought club merchandise and 41 per cent have purchased a club shirt, but these numbers would be drastically lower if counterfeit shirt merchandise was not taken into account.

Cristiano Ronaldo currently tops the most popular player rankings, but expect to see Neymar’s popularity soar following his recent China visit and high-profile transfer.


Villas-Boas: Big-spending CSL days are over

In news that should come as no surprise to regular China Digest readers, former Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas says the heady days of big spending in the Chinese Super League (CSL) are over, admitting the last-minute changes to the transfer regulations were “a big surprise”. Now at Shanghai SIPG, where he’s coaching the likes of Oscar and Hulk, AVB said the high spending in the CSL’s transfer market “will probably stop”.

In a sign of how unpredictable the CSL can be – both on and off the pitch – Villas-Boas said he and the club had been taken by surprise by the mid-season transfer shift, which effectively levied a 100 per cent tax on most transfers, but he added that the club had not been affected since it hadn’t planned to do much in the summer window anyway.


United interest?

One team that did not visit China this summer was Manchester United, which UK newspaper The Sunday Times reports is the target of a “mystery Chinese buyer”. However, do not expect the Glazers to be moving out anytime soon. The story says negotiators claiming to act for a billionaire Asian investor had reached out to some of the club’s independent shareholders, who collectively own about one-fifth of the club, with the Glazers holding the rest. Other media have run with the story, but your correspondent suggests this one can be safely tucked away in the rumour bin.


Esports hotspot

Esports have been growing in popularity around the world, and China has been at the forefront. Technode’s recent article “The quiet rise of China's $3 billion e-sports market”, notes that Beijing’s Bird’s Nest stadium will host the 2017 League of Legends World Championship in November, the first time China has hosted the event, despite state media recently calling gaming a “poison” on the country’s youth. Estimates of the size of the Chinese industry vary. Technode cites a report that esports audiences in the country will reach 220m by the end of 2017. Another report says the number of mobile gamers in China is forecast to rise 10 per cent this year to 580m. Meanwhile, this report from the South China Morning Post profiles an esports warrior princess battling the gender imbalance in the sector.


Tencent gets active in rights market

Tencent, one of the country’s top gaming companies, has acquired non-exclusive live streaming rights for the French Ligue 1, Italian Serie A, Scottish Premiership and English FA Cup for the upcoming season, covering a total of more than 700 games. The firm’s streaming platforms Tencent Video, Tencent Sports and Tencent News will also broadcast a range of highlights programmes.

Meanwhile, back on the gaming side, Tencent has been drawing some bad press with the news that parents are losing thousands of RMB thanks to their children buying virtual weapons and making other purchases while gaming online. One young student in Guangzhou reportedly spent RMB50,000 (€6,270/$7,400) in one week, buying armour for his character.


Also this week…


Further reading…

The China Digest is written by Mark Dreyer, who runs China Sports Insider, which features sports business news and analysis related to China’s fast-growing sports industry. He has worked for Sky Sports, Fox Sports, AP Sports and many others, and has covered major sporting events on five continents, including three Olympic Games. He has been based in China since 2007.


Most recent

With the National Basketball Association, National Hockey League, and Major League Baseball all approaching their offseasons at the same time due to Covid-19, US regional sports networks are facing an extended programming drought of live pro team sports during the fourth quarter of 2020.

Dutch clubs like SC Heerenveen have sold large numbers of season tickets prior to the 2020-21 Eredivisie season, despite there being no guarantees spectators will be allowed to attend matches. Callum McCarthy reports.

Basketball Champions League CEO Patrick Comninos describes how the fledgling basketball competition has tried to maintain momentum during a troubled year and its plans to resume this year's season with a Final-Eight competition in Athens. Kevin Roberts reports.

Miami is focusing on sporting events that will generate a positive economic impact and reflect the city’s diverse heritage as it bids to recover from the devastating impact of Covid-19. Bradley Rial reports.