Chinese fans are unique in their consumption of sports content. They are the most in demand fans worldwide and have always been able to watch premium live sports for free. Imagine living in the UK with free access to every Premier League game. 12 months ago, the biggest question facing the market was: when will fans start paying for content?
Despite initial attempts from broadcasters to implement a paid subscription model, changing the mindset of a sports consumer proved too difficult. Sports networks were paying vast fees for premium rights, yet were unable to find a successful business model. This was an extremely important time for the sports industry in China, for both the networks and the international sports organisations.
In order to survive, media networks had to demonstrate their ability to grow revenue streams outside of advertising for their content. Meanwhile, sports organisations would not have been able to charge increased prices for their rights when the media networks weren’t making any money. The market was only going to open when fans started to pay for content, otherwise the bubble would have burst.
Now, the market is completely different. The key to this was a unanimous acceptance of the media networks that they had to start charging for content, albeit relatively low prices. If we now look at the main players, they have all placed their top content behind a paywall with slightly differing models.
LeSports have acquired over 200 different broadcast rights, including the Premier League, Chinese Super League, and even World Rugby. They were one of the first media networks to create an all inclusive sports package, meaning that fans can access a huge variety of sports for just one fixed payment. The most recent figures report that there are a total of 1.5 million paid subscribers to this 600RMB ($90) per year package.
Tencent Sports are the full media rights owners of NBA China, and introduced a 298RMB ($45) per year package to watch the full coverage of games. The network reported a total of 400 million unique visitors that consumed NBA content, including fans outside of the subscription model. The biggest figure for them was that 50% of all fans said that they were willing to pay for the top NBA games. The latest reports indicate that the NBA are set to introduce a much more personalised package this year, with fans even able to subscribe for matches just involving their favorite team.
Supersports were one of the first to trial subscription models after they secured the exclusive rights for the current Premier League cycle. For the first game of the 2015-16 season, 500,000 paid subscribers tuned in. 12 months on, over 8 million fans watched the same the opening fixture this year under LeTV’s paid subscription model. 16x more viewers in the space of 12 months shows tremendous growth and acceptance by the Chinese fans of paying more content.
In the last year, we’ve seen the Chinese sports industry take on one of its biggest challenges by changing fans’ behaviour. This is just the starting point of fans paying for live sports content, and we can expect to see more innovative models and packages available for the world’s most in-demand fans.