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English Premier League finds China a struggleBloomberg18 January 2012English soccer’s Premier League may have to give away its television rights for free to build its fan base in China.Super Sports Media pays the league for rights, then sells the matches - featuring teams like Manchester United and Liverpool - to regional free-to-air broadcasters, which cover areas containing about one-third of China’s 1.3 billion people.While that’s an improvement from the 30,000 who subscribed to see games two years ago, the league is considering how to strengthen its position when the current deal expires after next season.The league’s £3 billion (S$6 billion) in overseas and domestic broadcast rights makes it the world’s richest soccer competition, yet China has been a struggle. Only state-owned CCTV can broadcast sports nationwide, and it won’t overpay, said Pierre Justo, Asia director of sport and media for data company TNS/CSM Media Research.CCTV’s approach is ‘if you want to reach the Chinese consumer, pay us then we would broadcast you,’ Mr. Justo said. ‘The logic is reversed.’Super Sports is in the second year of a three-season agreement after taking over from Win TV, which ran a pay-per-view service.Recognition of the league is rising with the wider availability, Super Sports senior vice president Clark Xu said. ‘We’ve see a strong increase in ratings verses last season because people were still recovering from the Win TV time,’ said Mr. Xu.Super Sports wouldn’t release its viewership figures for English soccer. The games have had a ‘significant increase’ in viewers because matches now reach more homes, the Premier League said.The league is considering its television options in the country.‘China remains a very unique broadcast market that requires a flexible and tailored approach in order to satisfy the various objectives of our clubs and stakeholders,’ the league said.The US$60 million contract with Win TV was made because team owners preferred cash over viewers, the opposite of the strategy pursued by the National Basketball Association. While the American league gets little money up front, its games reach the entire country on CCTV.‘My remit at the Premier League was beautifully simple,’ Phil Lines, who was the chief negotiator for the league, said. ‘Go and sell for as much as you can.’Win TV failed because China doesn’t have a culture of pay television, said Mr. Xu. His company sells its rights to 18 regional channels as well as Internet sites. The games are broadcast free of charge and Super Sports shares advertising revenues.The channels cumulatively reach about 500 million people.Mr. Xu declined to say how much the rights costs, except that they were ‘more favourable’ than Win TV’s deal.
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