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2017 Year in Review: Dramatic changes in Chinese sports broadcasting market

By Chen Yaping 24 Jan 2018

In recent years, Chinese broadcasters, whether or not they are traditional TV networks or digital media companies, have been fighting an uphill battle over sports media rights.

In January 2015, Chinese digital sports media company, Tencent Sports announced a five-year deal to become the Exclusive Official Digital Partner of the NBA in China, which earned itself a record number of live NBA games and the rights to deliver enhanced original NBA programming and highlights.

In October 2015, China Sports Media announced the purchase of five-year broadcasting rights for the Chinese Super League, China's top-tier professional football league, for 8 billion yuan.

One of their rivals, Suning Sports, has acquired the exclusive all media rights to broadcast the English Premier League (EPL) from 2019 to 2022 in mainland China and Macau, Spanish LaLiga from 2015 to 2020 in mainland China, Taiwan and Macau, and German Bundesliga from 2018 to 2023 in mainland China.

The other player in the market, LeSports is still dealing with the fallout from the financial crisis of its parent company LeEco. According to some media reports, LeSports once offered 600 million dollars to fight against Tencent Sports for NBA broadcasting rights. However, considering Tencent’s large market share in Chinese social media, the NBA finally chose to grant the rights to Tencent Sports in a 500-million-dollar deal over a five-year cycle.

At present, Tencent Sports and Suning Sports have become two largest digital broadcasters for sports content. For example, Tencent Sports now owns media rights of different leagues and events, such as the EPL, Bundesliga, Serie A, Ligue 1, NFL, NHL, the UEFA Champions League, the Wimbledon Championships, the French Open, the U.S. Open and China Volleyball League.

Digital media companies are taking a share of the spoils from their traditional TV rivals, through positive efforts in operation services. Looking back at Tencent Sports, in order to attract NBA users in China, the media company worked hard to set up luxurious broadcast studios, hire experienced commentators and launch the NBA League Pass for the first time in China. As expected, the efforts above have drawn 450 million fans to the NBA broadcasts via Tencent platforms, creating a phenomenon in the Chinese sports market.

On the other side of the Sports broadcasting market, the China Central Television (CCTV) network extended a deal with FIFA in November 2017, which has been running since the 1978 World Cup, acquiring exclusive media rights in China for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, along with all other major international competitions under the world’s football governing body.

In this regard, we can see that putting aside the policy factors, TV broadcasters are still the first choice for rights holders of major sports events and major platforms for commercial promotions. This is because, in China, people prefer to watch major events through TV channels, while TV broadcasters like CCTV have developed a reliable broadcasting team and program schedule and a well-established football programming system.

Facing a sharp competition from their new media rivals, some traditional media companies have started to revolutionize their business structures through cooperation with new media companies. For example, in December 2017, two subsidiary companies of Shanghai Jiushi Group invested in Great Sports, making Jiushi Group the second-largest shareholder of Shanghai Media Group’s (SMG) sports channel.

Alongside investing in Great Sports, the two companies will also bring their sports industry resources to the sports channel and jointly promote the sports industry in Shanghai. For most professionals in the Chinese sports industry, this has become a landmark deal for Chinese traditional sports TV channels embracing new media partners.

In addition to this, other sports companies are making efforts to grow their market share launch by leveraging self-made sports events. For example, Alisports, the sports arm of Alibaba, held the finals of the second World Electronic Sports Games (WESG) in Suzhou of Jiangsu Province in September 2017.

According to Alisports CEO Zhang Dazhong, although self-made events like WESG are not-for-profit businesses, they could promote the sound development of the eSports industry in the country. If eSports can qualify to enter the Olympic Games in the future, Alisports may gain commercial value as an event operator. 

Proofread by William Logsdon

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