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Pay-to-view CSL on the way?

By Pu Yang Wednesday, 09 Mar 2016 18:30

The Chinese Super League (CSL) is attracting more attention these days not only because the CSL clubs havejust had a busy transfer window, but also because domestic companies are showing more interest in the league and the sport.

With the introductionof big-name stars from top European clubs, CSL clubs are expected to monetize larger attendances this season. Similarly, broadcasters are also being giventhe opportunity to capitalise onthe growing CSL audience. CMC’s Tiao Power, for example, which shockingly offered RMB8 billion for the broadcastingrights to the CSL last year, has taken a major step forward after strikinga strategic partnership with Le Sports. The deal enables Le Sports to exclusively stream the CSL across its various digital platforms for the 2016 and 2017 seasons.

Despitethe fact that Le Sports paid a debatable figure ofRMB2.7 billion, what really concerns CSL supporters is that they will need to subscribe toLe Sports’ digital channels in order to watch certain exclusively aired matches in the near future. That would be a real game changer in shaping the landscape of CSL broadcasting if this decision has definitely been made. Furthermore, Le Sports and Ti’ao Power are also noweyeing a much more comprehensive plan where CSL supporters may have to pay for every live CSL match in 2018.

For Yu Hang, VP at Le Sports’ Strategic Resources, the quality of content really matters more than audience habits when it comes to paid subscriptions. “Considering (the fact) that the content of high quality sports events can be consumed through paid subscriptions, I don’t think there is any shortcut for the Chinese sports industry or Chinese sports media industry. Accordingly, pay-to-viewis the only way to go for the Chinese sports industry in the future.”In his eyes, it is important to offer quality CSL content and experience which the fans are willing to pay for.

Are Chinese CSL supporters ready to pay for it yet?

Before answering the question, we need to firstly take a glance at the presence of the CSL among manyother sports. The CSL,as labelled by Le Sports and many others, is the most valuable sports property becausea large number of Chinese soccer fans regard the CSL as a ‘must see’,thus pavingthe way for paid subscriptions. And that partly explains why Le Sports willair some pay-per-view matches at certain points over the next two seasons. Moreover, paying for live matches is not unfamiliar toChinese audiencesas they have been paying broadcasters for some of the English Premier League matches over the last few seasons. In this regard, the door is already open.

More importantly, nearly all successful professional sports in the world are heavily financed by paid subscribers. No matter ifit is the renowned English Premier League, La Liga or NBA, subscription fees play a significant role in their broadcasters’ commercial operations. Accordingly, if the CSL really wants to grow into a much larger league, that day will finally come forCSL fans.

Despite the possibility that the CSL will no longer be a free-to-air league in the near future, the fans are becoming more interested in promoted broadcasts. Luckily, Ti’ao Power is set to build a new production base in East Beijing to broadcast programs about the CSL. The company has also made a variety of efforts to improve the quality of content forCSL matches, including equipment upgrade and thelaunch of CSL-related programs, in order to engage more CSL fans.

It is clear what the CSL means to Ti’ao Power and Le Sports as both paid astronomic sumsof money for its broadcasting rights. The duo also intend to terminate the era when China’s top tier soccer league was free-to-air. What remains unclear is whether the fansarereally ready for it? We shall wait and see.

Proofread by John Devlin.



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