Saturday, May 9, 2009

Ending the Premier League Blackout

Although I'm an American, I do enjoy me some English Premier League football (soccer).

I played organized soccer from the time I was five until I was fifteen. Soccer and basketball were my favorite sports to play growing up. I also enjoyed watching soccer on TV when I could too. But the opportunity to watch soccer on TV in America is basically limited to the World Cup every four years. So I never got into the sport as much as I could've had I had the chance to watch it more.

My passing interest in watching soccer changed in 2006 though. My first roommate in China and still good friend, James, is one of the most hardcore Bolton Wanderer fans on the planet. He took my eager-to-learn soccer mind acted as my primer to the best football league on the planet - the English Premiership.

During James and my late night viewings of the league on Shaanxi TV 7, he explained to me why Chelsea is evil, why Arsenal is the most easy-to-root-for of the "big four," and why the bland, grind-it-out playing style of Bolton's (then) manager Sam Allardyce was effective. The games being shown for free in Xi'an truly gave me the opportunity to become a fan of English football. Indeed, I would get well into the discussions that my English friends were having on the league.

But then after the '06-'07 season, the English Premier League decided that allowing China, the already NBA-crazy country with the most potential EPL fans on Earth, to watch the games for free is a bad idea. They made all of the games pay-per-view, which essentially killed any opportunity for Chinese people or myself, to get into the games.

Citing the NBA's ridiculous popularity in China, I told my English friends that the league was making a huge mistake. It turns out that I was right and that the EPL now sees that the move to make games in China pay-per-view was a bad move.

From The Times Online:

Image of Liverpool's Dirk Kuyt from

PRESSURE from the Premier League’s “big four” clubs has forced a change in strategy in the way it will sell its next tranche of overseas rights, with the league desperate to get back on terrestrial television in China.

This comes after lobbying by Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool, all furious at attracting a relatively low number of viewers in the world’s most populous country. China is home to 1.3 billion people but under the current deal there with a minor pay-per-view operator, hardly anybody subscribes.

WinTV won the Chinese rights for 2007-10 after bidding about £8m a year, a small amount in the context of the £210m gained from all overseas territories combined (about £630m over three years) but the highest bid from China. Its dreams of attracting 1.2m subscribers were hit by high pricing and bad marketing, and ratings in the tens of thousands remain so low they barely register.

Asia in general and China in particular are key markets for the big four; United are among clubs who will tour there this summer. The club’s chief executive David Gill says: “We must have better exposure. The reality is that [will] help us with our business goals and other commercial aims.” Well-placed sources confirm that Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool feel the same.

A Premier League source said last night: “We envisage a switch in strategy, probably to a dual approach with some pay-TV games and others free to air in China on state-run CCTV, if we can achieve that.

“With the way China is developing, there is a need for a more sophisticated approach. It’s not just a case of wanting the Premier League to be more popular than Serie A or La Liga in China, or even trying to make football as popular as basketball, it’s about fighting for viewers in the whole cultural landscape.”

Read On
My large contingent of English friends living here in Xi'an are going to be happy to hear this news. In future years, Chinese people and foreigners living in China will no longer have to illegally watch the games streamed on the internet at hubs like and Live Footy.

The only problem is that, from the way I understand the article, these expanded TV rights are going to take effect until the season after next. But hey, at least things are moving in the right direction for Chinese people having the opportunity to watch (at least some games of) the English Premier League for free on TV.


Ramesh said...

Whoever decided to change the EPL telecast to pay per view deserves to be shot. They must be extremely short sighted not to see the opportunity in China. As you say, the NBA is ridiculously popular - if there is a poll in China on the most popular human being on the planet, I wouldn't be surprised if Kobe Bryant won !!

Hang said...

Wintv (天盛) is the most hated company in China. We cannot watch EPL live, but fortunately, we still can watch Serie A (Italian), La Liga (Spainish) and Bundesliga (German) live.