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Premier League Series (II): TV broadcasts, media exposure and fandom of the EPL in China

By Yutang Sports 27 Jul 2015

The English Premier League has a huge fan base in China. Two reasons for this success in the Chinese market include its renowned reputation as a global brand while the other is their effective promotion and marketing in the Chinese market. 

What is the promotional and marketing strategy that the EPL has adopted in China? 

From the perspective of TV broadcasting in China, EPL matches were aired on multiple channels for Chinese audiences to choose from.  In addition to traditional TV channels, fans have access to EPL game contents on various digital media and social media platforms. Furthermore for the upcoming 2015/16 EPL season, more traditional TV stations and online media have agreed broadcast deals with the EPL to offer more games and associated content. With 20 local TV channels and four major online media companies (Tencent, Sina, LeTV and Super Sports) having the rights to broadcast EPL games, this will give current fans easy access to potentially great games. 

Apart from seeing live games, fans also want to keep up-to-date with the Premier League through news and other content available on all channels, so the media coverage and its exposure has become an important factor in the popularity and fan loyalty of the ‘Big Five’ football leagues in China. 

According to data we (Yutang Sports) collected from CSM and 35+ Cities, the media coverage and exposure level of the Premier League is the highest among the ‘Big Five’, followed by the Bundesliga, La Liga and Serie A. Media exposure of Ligue 1 is the lowest as there are no TV broadcasts of Ligue 1 games in China. 

If media coverage and exposure are something that cannot be controlled by individual leagues, initiatives on social media, can in some way be managed. Social media is an important way for sports leagues to have direct communication with fans. More exciting topics will draw more engagement and views from fans. The Bundesliga is the most-mentioned league on Sina Weibo. However, excluding the large impact made by Wolfsburg’s Zhang Xizhe in the Bundesliga, the EPL is the most-frequently talked about league. In short, the EPL is the most popular among the ‘Big Five’ in relation to TV coverage and media engagement exposure on social media. 

Now, let’s focus on TV media. Currently, the way EPL games are broadcasted in the Chinese TV market can be divided into three parts: free-to-air on local TV channels, Pay-TV and on IPTV and mobile. 

Digital media has been growing rapidly in recent years but has lagged behind due to definition and bandwidth, with TV remaining the main stream for audiences to consume EPL contents. Local TV audiences for the EPL have reached 350million in China along with 3.12million subscribers for Pay-TV contents. Pay-TV subscribers may not account for a large share in the total viewership, but Pay-TV subscribers are continually growing in China. 

EPL has seen an overwhelming victory in TV coverage in China, with an accumulative 4,768 hours in the 2014/15 season, three times more than that of La Liga and double the total coverage of the other ‘Big Four’ European Leagues. Among EPL clubs, Arsenal enjoyed the highest coverage on TV, followed by Man. Utd, Liverpool, MCFC and Chelsea. 

Compared to Germany’s Bundesliga and Spain’s La Liga broadcasts on CCTV5, the Premier League was mainly broadcast on local channels. But still, the number of viewers that the Premier League can reach out to was higher than those of other leagues. So if it is ever broadcast on satellite channels definitely the number of its viewers will reach even higher proportions.

So which groups of people in China were watching EPL? What value are they to advertisers? As for TV viewers, we found that most of them were aged 25 to 35 with college degrees and high salaries and the number of these people has increased compared to last season which means the EPL is attracting more elites.

So who were the viewers watching the EPL online? It was proved that online viewers were younger than TV viewers. People under 40 accounted for over 90 percent of the online viewers. So these two kinds of viewers are complementary. TV viewers are more mature with greater consuming ability, while online viewers are more likely to interact.

If we take geography location into account, there is no doubt that people in more developed regions were more passionate about EPL. The top 5 provinces/municipalities where more heated discussions about the EPL took place on Weibo were from Guangdong, Shanghai, Beijing, Jiangsu and Shandong. Fans in these areas are not only interested in EPL, but also in fashion, entertainment, cars and technology which means organizations in the industries of E-commerce, mobile phones, cars, digital products and FMCG should pay more attention to the EPL where they can consolidate their marketing strategies to their target consumers in those markets.

Fans are willing to spend money to watch exciting games. The 2014/15 Premier League had 3.12 million cable TV viewers, which was an increase of 67 percent compared to the previous season. Sales revenue of Super Sports for this season increased by 150 percent, with 12 percent of the revenues earned from viewers using mobile devices.

Therefore we expect there will be four trends in marketing throughout the next Premier League season. First, as the EPL leads in league’s broadcasting time, reaching rate and the number of viewers, advertisers can budget more for it. Secondly, advertisers can release more soft-adverts aimed at connecting themselves with fans. Thirdly, advertisers can embrace creativity in both content and form to differentiate themselves from their opponents. Last but not least is the integration of all media. Other than TV and new media platforms, off-line activities will also co-exist.

Proofread by Raymond Fitzpatrick

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