February has been a very rich month for Chinese football with a number of new sponsorship agreements being signed marking a new level of confidence and investment in the domestic game.
It was less than 10 years ago that the league went without a sponsor for a year, before signing a deal with a shady British company called IPhox that ultimately went bankrupt halfway through the season. The previous two and a half seasons Wanda has paid $10.6 million a year to be the title sponsor of the CSL, though this season Ping’an Group has taken over sponsorship, more than doubling the yearly fee at nearly $24.5 million each season.
The league has gone from struggling to find sponsors to bidding wars among major companies to be connected to Chinese football. Beer and football go hand in hand and that may be why the major players are battling it out to build visibility. Harbin Beer, already a sponsor of the World Cup, became one of the league’s top sponsors last season only to see Carlsberg sign a sponsorship later on in the season. Yanjing Beer signed a deal to sponsor the domestic cup, the CFA Cup, for $3.2 million, more than doubling what previous sponsors Toshiba paid. Qingdao (Tsingtao) Beer decided to stay above the domestic bidding war and instead signed a deal with the Asian Football Confederation to sponsor the Champions League.
Much of the reason for this investment windfall stems from Guangzhou Evergrande’s Asian Champions League victory last year, an event that added legitimacy to the Chinese game, despite the national team’s failures. The top club got even richer this year when they signed a one season $16.2 million sponsorship deal with Nissan, a deal richer than all but the top European clubs’ kit sponsorship deals.
Attendance has steadily risen after years of being in the doldrums, last year reaching 18,500 per match. That number will likely rise even higher this season with Henan’s return to the top flight and a team from Harbin in the CSL for the first time, moving the average closer to the huge highs when the league was first started in the mid 90s, before scandal and corruption drove it into the ground.
Unlike in previous years, domestic companies are the ones driving the new wave of investment, but if recent league success continues, expect foreign companies to get involved in the bidding wars. Big money doesn’t mean big profits for the clubs involved, when divided between the 16 sides, each can only expect to receive around $1.6 million, barely enough to cover a mediocre domestic player’s transfer fees.
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