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Team China’s great soccer dream

By Chen Yaping 12 May 2016

Team China consists of seven Chinese national soccer teams, including the Men's National Team, Men's U-23 Team, Men's U-19 Team, Men's U-17 Team, Women's National Team, Women’s National U-20 Team and Women’s National U-17 Team. The governing body of Team China is the Chinese Football Association (CFA).

2016 is a big year for Team China and Chinese football fans, as China advanced to the final Asian qualifying round of the World Cup for the first time since 2002 after a 2-0 victory over Qatar on March 29.

For most Chinese people, that's one small step for Team China, but one giant leap for the soccer industry across the country. Generally speaking, Team China has accelerated the development of Chinese soccer in the international market.

Sponsorship Deals

Team China’s sponsorship history has been full of frustration. In 2009, Infront Media & Sports Group ended the business marketing partnership with Team China. This decision was taken because of the team’s disappointing competition results and the notorious gambling, corruption and match fixing in the Chinese soccer industry. Therefore, sponsors preferred to stay away from the Chinese national team.

In the last two years, as many investors have invested in the Chinese Super League it has been like dividing a cake, with the available slices becoming smaller and smaller. In these circumstances Team China has also become a favorite for sponsors and brands.

2015 was a fruitful year for Team China. Last May, just before Team China took part in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Asian Qualifiers, the CFA announced that a standard partnership deal for Team China must run at least four years. Every year, the Presenting Partner, Official Sponsor and Official Supplier must pay at least RMB50 million, 20 million and 10 million respectively.

Despite the strict requirements, many companies have counted Team China as the best partner to activate their marketing plans. Up to now, Team China’s partnership portfolio includes one Presenting Partner (Changan Ford), five Official Sponsors (Nike, Yanjing Beer, Continental Tire, Gionee and Skyworth), two Official Suppliers (China Ping An Insurance, Coca Cola), one Media Partner (Ti’ao Dongli) and one Homeground Events Partner (Beijing iRena). As the Chinese men’s national team reached the final round of the Asian World Cup qualifying, all of the above partners have seen a return on their investment.

Broadcasting Rights

The broadcasting rights of Team China have also become all the rage nowadays. Last April, after beating several rivals, China Media Capital-backed Ti’ao Dongli snapped up the four-year media rights to Team China. The deal includes public production rights, TV broadcasting rights and new media rights within mainland China, and all media rights outside mainland China. It is reported that the payment in the first year is valued at US$ 10.64 million (RMB 70 million). The price will increase year on year under this deal.

Will Team China become Ti’ao Dongli’s cash cow? The company’s General Manager Zhao Jun believes that there is still a long way to go. What matters is that they will set up an outstanding media team to advance broadcasting quality at home and abroad. The company is now making efforts to have Team China games streamed via CCTV channels, local TV stations, new media platforms and overseas outlets.

Zhao confirmed that a reselling model is the best choice to achieve their financial goals. The problem is, their “product line” is too limited. In other words, there are so few major events for the Chinese men’s soccer team, except for the World Cup Qualifications and the AFC Asian Cup. Regarding the profit, Zhao said we will have to wait and see what happens by the expiration of the deal.

It is worth noting that China Team has attracted an increasing number of Chinese fans. According to one of Yutang’s TV ratings reports, on March 23, the football game where China defeated Maldives in the Asian World Cup qualifying game topped the CCTV 5 ratings that week, with a 1.77 average rating. Considering the passion of Chinese fans, to make a profit will be more than a dream for Ti’ao Dongli.

Sven-Goran Eriksson, current manager of the Chinese Super League team Shanghai SIPG, believes winning the World Cup is a realistic target for the Chinese national team within the next 20 years.

“Why not? Not the next World Cup. It will take 15 to 20 years at least.” As Eriksson said in an interview with BBC Sport.

“This season, it’s gone crazy, totally crazy. The president of the country is pushing for football. And if the government push for something in China things will happen.” added the former Manchester City boss.

Chinese Soccer Dream

In 2015, China unveiled the Overall Plan of Chinese Soccer Reform and Development to revive Chinese soccer. Industry insiders think that the government’s support is a major driving force for the soccer fever across the country.

Along with these favourable circumstances, some Chinese giants have become even more focused on their soccer business. Last December, Alibaba E-Auto signed an eight-year Presenting Partnership with the sport’s governing body FIFA. The “Internet car” brand will support the FIFA Club World Cup from 2015 until 2022.

On March 19th, Chinese commercial powerhouse Wanda Group announced a top level sponsorship with the FIFA World Cup for the next four editions. As part of the agreement, Wanda will have the rights to launch a range of promotional campaigns up until 2030.

In addition to this, the industry is flourishing in China through the improvement of city facilities. Last month, Beijing reaffirmed its ambitious sports plan to make China a global soccer leader by 2050. In detail, the country decided to build up 20,000 soccer academies and more than 70,000 soccer pitches by 2020.

Therefore, more and more local governments are looking to attract international attention by hosting major soccer events. According to a report by Beijing Youth Daily, on May 10th, a CFA official confirmed that 15 Chinese cities including Beijing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Wuhan and Xi’an, have entered the bidding process to host home games for Team China’s competition in the final Asian qualifying round for the World Cup. 

To be honest, at present, China still cannot compete with the European leagues regarding the business model, club management and market maturity. However, we have seen favourable factors, like sponsorships, broadcasting, governmental support and fan confidence, helping Chinese soccer take steps in the right direction.

“To become as important as European leagues will not be done in the next five or ten years, but they have former world-class players nowadays in China. This is very good, because this inspires the youth and fans behind the scenes.” FIFA Director Walter Gagg told Yutang Sports at the 2016 SportAccord Convention.

Proofread by Sean O Diobhilin.

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