The football season in China remains on pause. Clubs are training awaiting news on when the new season, originally expected to begin in February, will kick off and what it might look like. That’s not to say that nothing is happening in the meantime. Clubs are pulling out of the league or going bust. There have been 14 so far with Chinese Super League side Tianjin Tianhai the most high profile and Liaoning FC the most historic. Tianhai, who were known as Quanjian a couple of years back , reached the AFC Champions League under Fabio Cannavaro with players such as Pato, Axel Witsel and Anthony Modeste. Liaoning, meanwhile, were the most successful Chinese team of the 1980s and early 1990s and were champions of Asia in 1990. Liaoning FC, founded in 1953, officially died after CFA announced the decision of disqualifying them from professional league. Like Guangzhou Evergrande in the past 10 years, they obtained 10 domestic titles from 1984 to 93 and won the 1989-90 Asian Club Championship(Now as ACL). pic.twitter.com/Vvfr7V0oso — Titan Sports Plus (@titan_plus) May 24, 2020 Now they have gone, along with 14 others, all probably never to be seen again State news agency Xinhua have mourned the loss of these clubs in an editorial that asks others to heed the warning. “The tragedy of Tianhai is enough to warn many other professional football clubs in China,” they wrote. ‘May 19 Incident’ – when Hong Kong ruined China’s World Cup dream “When funds are cut off from the parent company that controls the majority of shares, and a new investor cannot be found, it will only lead to bankruptcy. Who out of the other football clubs can guarantee that the same tragedy won't befall them? “Through the Tianhai tragedy we once again see that most Chinese professional football clubs have fatal flaws in their viability.” These fatal flaws risk being more exposed when the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic becomes clearer. In 2019, 64 teams play in Chinese professional league system (CSL: 16 CL1: 16 CL2: 32), the size shrank to 55 in 2020 (CSL: 16 CL2: 18 CL2: 21). 5 new teams promoted/admitted to CL2. 14 of the 64 teams disbanded/withdrew. Death rate of Chinese professional clubs in 2019: 21.9% pic.twitter.com/2zZMUhXTK5 — Titan Sports Plus (@titan_plus) May 24, 2020 As it stands, this year was meant to be one of expansion for the Chinese league system as part of the long-term development of the sport in the country, instead we will see 55 teams across the top three divisions, as opposed to 64 in 2019. Titan Sports put it more succinctly on Twitter – “Death rate of Chinese professional clubs in 2019: 21.9 [per cent]” There are still signs of life. Xi’an FC has agreed a “strategic cooperation” deal with Shanxi Lingshi Guangjinbao Coal Industry Company, according to SportsMoney. The company has “invested in the club and will build a club for 100 years”. Xi’s World Cup wish, tattoos and Tevez: the 2010s in Chinese football To paraphrase former British prime minister Harold Wilson, a week is a long time in Chinese football. A century is unthinkable. But this is meant to be the Chinese Century and while football in China is in ailing health, European football continues to bank on China. La Liga, which has also been on lock-down hiatus, although is now expected to return in June , announced their China joint venture earlier this month. They have partnered with China sports and entertainment giant DDMC’s subsidiary Super Sports and Chinese-backed Spanish Mediapro. “The joint venture represents an important step in La Liga's commercial strategy in China,” La Liga China SEO Sergi Torrents said in a press release. “Mediapro and Super Sports Media become part of our development in the country, adding local expertise and new assets with which we hope to expand our pool of partners and licensees in the region.” La Liga, which has the minority stake in the initial 15-year deal, is targeting making € 30 million (US$32.6 million) per year from said pool of Chinese partners and licensees within five years, the Financial Times reported. The longer term goal is to build La Liga’s brand within the country and sell broadcast rights for more than the English Premier League. It looks like rampant commercialism and a shameless China strategy but we’ve long known that overseas teams want to exploit the untapped commercial potential in China. This is just made more stark because it comes at a time when there is no football in Spain for Chinese fans to watch. There has been no European football anywhere until the Bundesliga resumed earlier this month . That just meant that the battle for hearts and minds (and presumably WeChat wallets and Alipay accounts) has had to shift its focus. Fan engagement is the key metric and that does not change just because there is no football. Borussia Dortmund took the cancellation of their game against Schalke 04 in their stride and instead did a virtual fan party with 2.9 million viewers. The club put on a real-life fan party in a Shanghai bar when the rescheduled Revierderby kicked off the Bundesliga’s return (coinciding with much eased measures in China). Italian champions Juventus virtually united their 37 China fan clubs – their most in any country outside Italy – with an online game show watched by 11.2 million people. Chelsea, meanwhile, got 7.5 million to tune into a live stream on Weibo and Douyin. Such initiatives are only going to become more important. Manchester United announced last week that the coronavirus has cost them US$28 million in lost revenue and they – and the rest of Europe – will be looking to China to make it up. Presumably with no preseason tours, digital interaction is the new normal for European clubs in China, but no football has proved no object to them. What the future holds for Chinese football looks less certain. Help us understand what you are interested in so that we can improve SCMP and provide a better experience for you. We would like to invite you to take this five-minute survey on how you engage with SCMP and the news.