The Rise of the Chinese Super League
Rise of the CSL
In the past year, the CSL has experienced growth at a ridiculous rate. Its value has increased by 81% which makes it the fastest growing football league in the world. It is now worth over $338 million. Whilst this pales in comparison to the giant leagues of Europe, if it continues at this rate of growth it won’t be long before it’s in the same conversation. The domestic rights for the 2016 season were purchased for $1.26 billion, 20 times greater than the previous deal, further demonstration of its growth.
Whilst these figures are undoubtedly impressive, surely this is merely the CSL coming of age in a huge market? It can’t possibly keep this sort of growth up in a market already dominated by the traditional European powerhouses. This may well not be the case: support for the CSL in China is vast as evidenced by its Weibo numbers. The CSL currently has more followers than the Premier League, the Bundesliga and La Liga combined.
How is it doing it?
Well, first off let’s look at some of the talent on show. China boasts some of the most well-known names in the game that would be, and indeed have been, at home managing the very top sides in the world. Names like Luiz Felipe Scolari, Manuel Pellegrini, Sven Goran Eriksson and Fabio Cannavaro. In actual fact, Cannavaro has been managing in Chinese League 1 this season. He was brought in, doubtless at very great expense, to guide Tianjin Quanjian to promotion into the CSL (a cause in which he has now been successful).
The spending of the Super League clubs has garnered headlines this year, and rightly so. In the January window, it was the highest spending league worldwide, beating the Premier League for the first time, with a vast $366 million of outlay on players. What is possibly more astonishing, is that the Chinese League 1 was the fourth highest spender, above the Bundesliga.
Unsurprisingly, the transfer record has been broken four times in the last 12 months. Ramires, Jackson Martinez and Alex Teixeira all set new marks, however, the signing of Hulk by Shanghai SIPG for $58 million in July remains the highest to date. How long it will sustain this status is hard to say, however, the smart money is on it being beaten sooner rather than later.
The almighty power of CCTV
Another crucial part of the CSL’s rise is CCTV. CCTV is by far the most powerful sports network in the world. Last season, they reported over 700 million viewers of the NBA through the course of the season. It also began showing Premier League games for the first time in 10 years. The results were quite astounding, overall viewership increased by 200% just through this new partnership. Similarly, of all China football viewership, 50% came from CCTV.
Despite these huge increases in viewership for western leagues, the appetite for Chinese football is by far the greatest. Of the 10 most viewed football matches of last year, every single one involved either the Chinese National Team or a CSL club. The World Cup qualifier between South Korea and China garnered 110 million viewers. That’s the same level as Super Bowl 50, for a World Cup qualifier that didn’t have immediate consequences for either team.
Whilst it has been a very memorable year for the CSL with their domestic successes, it’s the international progress that will have the greatest long-term benefits for the league. Through a number of rights deals, the CSL is now being shown in 53 countries: 24 Asia, 13 Europe, 12 Africa, USA, Canada and Brazil. Most of these deals were made between February and August and are in place until 2018.
International recognition is now one of the CSL’s biggest focuses, with their ultimate goal being parity with the biggest and best leagues in the world. Gaining a strong international following is key to that, along with making the future attraction of big names easier.
With a following as dedicated and enthusiastic as the Chinese football community and the might of companies like CCTV, the CSL will continue this growth. It will be very interesting to see whether it can continue to gain traction in the Western heartlands of the sport or whether interest will fade as the headlines do.