Here we go! As Cahill, Teixeira, Erikkson make Chinese Super League more of a draw, LeEco bringing games to Hong Kong
Chinese entertainment portal signs deal to broadcast matches from March in around 10 countries and regions
From March, soccer fans in Hong Kong will be able to watch Australia’s most prolific goal scorer Tim Cahill and other Chinese Super League stars foreign and domestic as Chinese entertainment portal LeEco begins broadcasting CSL matches in the city.
LeEco, formerly known as Letv, has snapped up the rights for the league in Hong Kong, Macau, mainland China, Taiwan, India, the United States and several Southeast Asian countries for the next two seasons, it announced on Tuesday.
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Subscribers of LeEco’s streaming service in Hong Kong will be able to watch the games for no additional charge, said Cheng Yizhong, CEO of Le Sports Hong Kong, the Hong Kong division of the company’s sports entertainment arm.
At a separate event in Beijing, Le Sports CEO Lei Zhenjian said the company paid China Media Capital subsidiary Ti’ao Power 2.7 billion yuan (US$414 million) for the two-year internet media rights deal.
As part of the deal, the subsidiary has agreed to invest in Le Sports’ Series B financing round, he added.
Yu Hang, vice president of strategy at Le Sports, said the company was considering launching payment packages for internet users in the city over the next two soccer seasons.
“Such a business model would help generate revenue that could be re-invested to produce better products and foster the development of the sports industry in China,” Yu said.
LeEco’s streaming service costs HK$ 99 (US$12.70) a month. It currently works on LeEco’s own devices, such as its smart TVs, TV set-top boxes and smartphones.
But the company said it is developing a mobile app for the Hong Kong market that also works on other smartphones.
“This is a major step forward in helping the Chinese Super League reach a global market,” said Cheng.
LeEco will provide commentary for the matches in Cantonese but there are no plans to do so in English, he said.
The company will announce broadcasting deals for several more high-profile sporting events soon, he added. Rumours online immediately began linking the company with the German Bundelisga.
While many European football leagues kick off in summer - the English Premier League runs from August to May - the CSL typically starts this month or next and ends in November or December.
It began in 2004 with 12 teams but now has 16. Guangzhou Evergrande are the reigning champs.
Apart from Cahill, who recently signed with Hangzhou Greentown after being dumped by Shanghai Shenhua, other big foreign names soon to join the league include former Brazil international Renato Augusto, who spoke recently of receiving an offer from Beijing Guoan that he could not refuse.
Earlier this month, Brazilian midfielder Alex Teixeira joined Jiangsu Suning on a four-year contract for a record Chinese transfer fee of 50 million euros (US$55 million).
The league has managed to attract some of the biggest names in the sport - albeit at the tail end of their careers - from France’s Nicolas Anelka, who played for Shanghai Shenhua in 2012, to former England coach Sven Goran Erikkson, who is now taking Shanghai SIPG to the Asian Champions League.
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As the country grows wealthier, it has been able to attract more foreign stars to burnish its domestic league but the national team still woefully underperforms and has only featured in one World Cup - in neighbouring Korea and Japan in 2002.
Despite this, Erikkson told The Guardian this week he believes China can win the quadrennial showcase within the next decade - buoyed by support from soccer-loving President Xi Jinping.
The deal negotiated by LeEco is just its latest move to shore up content. It recently bought the rights to broadcast English Premier League matches in Hong Kong for a reported US$ 61.2 million.
LeSport has purchased the rights to show a wide range of international sporting events, including NBA basketball games and ATP tennis matches.
The average number of people attending CSL matches last year surpassed 20,000, according to the Football Association of China.
The upcoming season kicks off on March 4. Most matches take place on Fridays and weekend nights.