With Association Football continuing to grow exponentially in all four corners of the globe, it is no surprise that China have decided they want in on the action. The State recently announced their Happiness Plan, in which football is identified as an area for major development, and perhaps more importantly a medium where China can demonstrate their sporting prowess on a truly international platform.
The plan, spearheaded by President Xi Jinping, aims to make China a football superpower by 2050 and to achieve this, the government has committed to building 70,000 pitches across the country to enable 50 million children to play the sport by 2020.
This commitment has fuelled a flood of investment from Chinese billionaires into historic European clubs such as Manchester City and Atletico Madrid, as influential individuals seek to acquire established expertise to replicate closer to home.
If you are a football fan and haven’t been living under a rock for the past 18 months, you will have seen a steady increase in the number of high profile names making the switch to the Chinese Super League for huge transfer fees. Yes, we’ve seen it before as former Real Madrid Galácticos David Beckham and Raul ventured to the US and Middle East respectively, but with China it’s different – Players such as Jackson Martinez and Alex Teixeira have made their moves in the prime of their career’s not for one final pay day to fund yet another luxury apartment in Puerto Banus.
As the financial power of those bankrolling Chinese Super League clubs increases and the influx of foreign players continues to grow in line with raising audiences, where will this leave the Happiness Plan? Striking a balance between having a strong domestic league and a national team capable of delivering on the world stage is a serious challenge facing China – just ask the FA and the Premier League!
The influx of European imports to China has seen SkySports secure a deal to screen Chinese Super League games as they bid to maintain their self- proclaimed status as your home of football. The upsurge in media interest coupled with the success of Chinese teams in the Asia Champions League has resulted in sponsorship within Chinese football increasing by tenfold over the last three years. 2016 saw five companies compete for the naming rights to the Chinese Super League, including Volkswagon and Ford Mazda as they sought to grow their business further in the Asian market.
Over the course of the last 12 months the domestic competition has also signed other deals with Carlsberg, JD.com and Samsung as more companies seek to utilise the opportunity to increase brand awareness to a previously difficult to reach audience.
Whether the recruitment of foreign talent is the most effective way to create a national team competent enough to win the FIFA World Cup by 2050 remains to be seen but China’s record in other industrial sectors suggests that they will find the answer eventually. Judging by the ripples which have been created thus far, it’s going have a profound effect on the world’s favourite sport! The unique attraction and value attached to live football appears to know no bounds.
With the underwhelming spectacle of Euro 2016 over, the introduction of the latest astronomical Premier League TV deal now in place and Barcelona and Bayern Munich set to run away with their domestic leagues for yet another season, many would have forgiven you for thinking that European football had reached tipping point. However, as China attempt to gain a strategic foothold in world football, what repercussions will this have for UEFA? Will this investment enhance the profile of European football as more Chinese players begin to make the move into traditional European leagues, bringing with them lucrative Asian sponsors? Or will the Chinese Super League develop so excessively that the need for investment from Asian brands into UEFA competitions will be abolished? In the long term, it may just be that China’s financial capacity will enlarge the European football bubble, rather than bursting it!
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