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Nanchang Hengyuan Moving Back to Shanghai?

For those who are used to European football, the announcement that Shaanxi Renhe was leaving Xian for Guizhou came as a massive shock, well, hold on tight folks, we could be looking at more madness. In a winter of big transfers, it seems the biggest move may actually be clubs that are literally moving cities.

Unlike in the west, Chinese team ownership is similar to that across Asia, where a team is closely owned by a major company and an extension of said company. The story of Hengyuan begins in Shanghai in 2003, when the Hengyuan Corporation (a Shanghai real estate company) started a football team in that city. A year later, seeing an opportunity due to Nanchang Bayi’s (the army team) economic struggles and having failed to reach the 2nd division, Hengyuan attempted to buy that club. Their attempted purchase of the first team failed, but they ended up buying Bayi’s youth team and mixing it with their own club. Seeing an opportunity in Nanchang, which, with the dissolution of Bayi was without a team, Shanghai Hengyuan decided to relocate to Nanchang.

The club slowly experienced success, moving into the 2nd division in 2005 and then making it into the Chinese Super League in 2009, but since reaching the top flight have struggled both on and off the field. Nanchang have barely been able to remain in the top flight, staying above the drop by only two points and averaging just over 10,000 fans per match last season. Outside of their supporters being Jiangxi locals, the club’s front office, investors, coaching staff, and a number of its players are from Shanghai.

This isn’t the first year that the club was rumored to return to Shanghai, but these rumors are the most serious and persistent yet. The club, which has always been underfunded, is expecting to pay total salaries in the neighborhood of RMB100 million, which may sound like a lot but is really nothing considering rumors are that Shanghai’s most famous recent signing, Nicolas Anelka, is expected to make somewhere close to RMB88 million this year. Nanchang’s bosses in Shanghai have promised to invest an additional RMB50 million in the club, but only if the club returns to Shanghai.

The Chinese Super League schedule was released right after Chinese New Year, a surprise for many of us who are used to seeing it come out just weeks before the season started, however it has now disappeared from the web and word is that there may be some changes. Nanchang’s bosses are currently mulling over a return to Shanghai and looking for a venue, there are talks they could split grounds with Shanghai East Asia.

The proposed ground split brings up two points: 1. Shanghai already has a Chinese Super League team that previously struggled to draw fans, plus two China League clubs, where will Hengyuan get its fans from?, 2. The club was planning on moving from the rickety Bayi Stadium into the beautiful, brand new Jiangxi Olympic Center this year.

Why would Hengyuan want the club to move to Shanghai, especially at a time when Shenhua’s popularity is reaching an all-time high? The reality is that ticket sales amount for a tiny portion of a club’s finances and any loss in sales doesn’t concern the bosses who feel it’s more important that their team is in their local market. Further, they are potentially thinking that demand and prices for Shenhua season tickets will turn away fans and a second Chinese Super League team could attract them, as well as finally offering an alternative for all the Inter Shanghai holdouts who refuse to support Shenhua.

The Hengyuan squad is currently in Shanghai training for the upcoming season and a decision regarding a move is expected to come down this week. From a neutral’s perspective, the loss of a Nanchang side isn’t as unthinkable as Renhe leaving Xian and would create a third derby, but a second move this season would seriously affect fan’s trust in their management.

It would be a disaster for the league to have a handful of “old guard” franchises like Shandong, Beijing, Shanghai, Dalian (Shide), Changchun, Henan and Liaoning while the rest of the clubs changed cities or names every couple seasons. While such moves have little effect on the players, they kill the spirit of the fans and may have a deeper effect on the youth of a city deprived of a team. Let’s hope this move doesn’t happen, but in any case, it’s time for the Chinese Super League to step in and promote stability.

Brandon Chemers aka B. Cheng aka A Modern Lei Feng – is a name which may be familiar to many in the Chinese blogosphere. He currently serves as Editor-in-Chief for Wild East Football and is one of the lonely souls writing about Chinese football in English for the last 10 years. Chemers' credentials are second to none – his former blog focused not only on the fortunes of his beloved Beijing Guoan FC, but a multitude of other aspects of Beijing life. He’s deservedly built a reputation in the Chinese blogosphere as an insightful observer of not only Chinese football, but also the wider picture of life in modern China and its many layers. For WEF, beyond writing about Guoan, he often focuses on fan culture and the business of Chinese football.



  1. Kenneth Chilcoat

    12/02/2012 at 21:18

    Dislike. In a country as big as China six out of 16 teams being in three cities doesn’t seem fair, but after what happened to Xian I guess fair isn’t part of the equation.

  2. WEF Editor

    12/02/2012 at 22:12

    Idiots who don’t care about the fans.

    • Kenneth Chilcoat

      13/02/2012 at 23:32

      Who needs fans when you can have money?

      This happens all to often in America. NBA is the worst, but it’s also happened in the MLS when San Jose moved to Houston. In places where there isn’t long history and generations of fans supporting a team they’re very susceptible to being replaced if it makes sense financially.

      • bcheng

        14/02/2012 at 10:17

        This is where I simply don’t get it. Financially, it doesn’t really make sense moving to Shanghai, but the club could care less about the financial side of things. It seems just like the bosses want the team closer. But you’re right, professionalism has only been around for 18 years in China, so you can’t expect things to be like in Europe where these clubs have been around forever.

  3. Bobby

    13/02/2012 at 17:36

    Nanchang fans are Amazing,I remember when they won at Hongkou for the first time,they chanted”Come on you Shenhua” as well as applauding their own team,phenomenal stuff!

    Feel so sorry for their fans,they must be gutted.

    Also,it is rumured that the team formerly known as Nanchang Bayi will be joined by that team formerly known as Shanghai East Asia,and together they will be the Shanghai United.

  4. msittig

    20/02/2012 at 20:54

    The Hengyuan coach is live on SMG Sports right now talking about the move back to Shanghai. Sounds pretty positive about it, I’m guessing it’s a 90% sure thing now?

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