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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Collins

European Football Coverage: Why the trends are changing

Updated: May 29, 2019

Changing of the times

China is experiencing a wholesale change in the way sports content is consumed. Until the 2015/16 season, almost all sports content was free to view, which to western sports fans may sound like a dream come true. However, until recently rights deals in China were few and uncomprehensive meaning that the availability of sports content was limited.

This is no longer the case: over the last 2-3 years, Chinese companies have been aggresively acquiring broadcasting rights. The rise of digital streaming has allowed many more services to grow and develop into major players. Digital platforms have made the race for sports rights far more intense, challenging historical powerhouses like CCTV.

The introduction of the paywall across digital platforms shows that companies are beginning to think about return on their investments and as such, ratings are set to become crucial in the fine tuning of subscription platforms. LeTV has recently announced that their focus is now actively moving away from rights acquisition so as to hone the details of their services. The coming seasons will show what the value of the rights purchased is in real terms.

The old favourites

European football has attracted the most investment with all of the top 5 leagues (Premier League, Bundesliga, La Liga, Serie A and Ligue 1) regularly available to watch live or on re-runs across China. The UEFA Champions League also receives considerable coverage.

The Premier League has long been a favourite in China. However, figures from the 2015/16 season suggest that the Chinese fanbase may be diversifying. Although the EPL still ranks top in distribution, broadcasting time and average ratings figures are slipping. The primary beneficiary of this decline appears to be the Bundesliga, who’s total broadcasting time increased by 66% from the previous season.

Not by luck

This recent growth could in part be due to how active the Bundesliga and its clubs have become on Chinese social media. Whilst it is hard to quantify how much better engagement with fans is responsible for growth in popularity, it is certain that, as the market becomes more saturated with content that lives increasingly behind paywalls, fans will become more and more selective. As such, giving back to fans through avenues like social media and exclusive perks or events will become increasingly important.

As with the Premier League, it is the power of some of the biggest stars and teams in the world that provide a platform on which to grow. This being the case, it speaks volumes for the Bundesliga’s efforts that it has now managed to slightly ahead of La Liga in China. Boasting two of the most valuable, recognisable and passionately followed teams in the world, La Liga would seem to be an obvious challenger for the top spot. In comparison, whilst the German League can lay claim to plenty of world renown talent, the list of names pales in comparison to the embarrassment of riches on display weekly in Spain. However in the 2015/16 season, after two Champions League matches, the rest of the top ten most viewed European games were either EPL or Bundesliga fixtures.

Unsurprisingly, of the four Bundesliga games, all bar one involved Bayern Munich. What is less expected is that not even the widely popular El Clásico fixtures from La Liga make it onto the list. This could be partially due to the broadcast time in China (the second kicked off at 2:30 am on a Monday). Similarly, due to the regular evening kickoffs, average viewing figures for the Champions League are much lower than might be expected. That said, the passion for big events was displayed as the final, also aired at 2:30 am on a Monday, got the best ratings of any European game of last season.

Undoubtedly the Bundesliga’s approach to growing a fan base in China has been a successful one. Through increased exposure and extensive inclusion driven campaigns it has amassed a strong and loyal fanbase that will doubtless continue to grow in immediate future. 

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