LONDON, United Kingdom, Jan 7 – The big-spending Chinese Super League is on track to become the world’s dominant football championship, the head of a leading sports marketing firm predicted in an AFP interview.
China has made global headlines in recent weeks thanks to jaw-dropping megabucks moves for Argentina striker Carlos Tevez and Brazil playmaker Oscar.
With the country also investing heavily in grassroots football, Andrew Georgiou, CEO of Lagardere Sports and Entertainment, believes that in time it will rival even the super-popular English Premier League.
“There is no doubt in my mind that at some point in time, the Chinese Super League will become as big if not bigger than any other league in the world,” he told AFP in London on Friday.
“The only uncertainty in my mind is how long that will take. Because fundamentally, the market will be able to support the best players in the world playing the best football in the world in China.”
Money has been pumping into Chinese football ever since China’s President Xi Jinping declared his intention to turn the country into a football superpower.
The target year is 2050 and Georgiou, who has 10 years’ experience in Asian sports marketing, says there is no danger of China’s ruling party losing interest in the project before then.
“The good thing about China is, they’re never in a rush,” says the Australian.
Lagardere has helped Borussia Dortmund boost their profile in China and is due to open a second Chinese office in Shanghai.
Georgiou believes there will be a “quality tipping point” when the Chinese Super League outstrips championships such as the Premier League and Spain’s La Liga, even though it might take decades.
The Chinese Super League currently operates a quota system preventing teams from signing more than four non-Asian players.
It means the vast bulk of Tevez and Oscar’s new team-mates are unheralded Chinese players.
But the hope is that by tightly controlling the numbers of foreigners, China will allow its own home-grown players to blossom, which will in turn attract more high-profile players from elsewhere.
– ‘Tip of the iceberg’ –
“Once that local talent has been developed, that (quota) will be released and you’ll see more and more players coming to China,” Georgiou says.
“Because the money will become so big in China that it’ll be really important for them to go there.
“What Europe has at the moment is the prestige of playing in Europe, playing in well-established clubs, great brands that mean so much to the world.
“That’ll take longer to develop in China. It’s not a function of if, it’s a function of when.”
Oscar moved to Shanghai SIPG from Chelsea for a reported fee of 60 million euros ($63 million), while Tevez is reportedly set to earn 38 million euros per year after joining Shanghai Shenhua from Boca Juniors.
The eye-watering figures prompted a pledge from the Chinese government to put a cap on transfer spending.
But Georgiou says it is only “the tip of the iceberg”, citing the vast spending power of a growing Chinese middle class tipped to swell from 150 million people to around 550 million by 2022.
“The disposable income and purchasing power in China in the next five to 10 years are going to become so big, it’s going to dwarf all other parts of the world,” he said.
“This is the fundamental starting point for how you develop your business. It’s off the back of consumers wanting to spend and consume your product. And football in China is really popular.”
Georgiou points out that China is already a football pioneer, highlighting the speed with which mobile has overtaken television and online as the primary means of consuming football content in the country.
“The Chinese consumer is skipping straight to mobile and that’s a real difference in how you communicate with fans,” he said.
“They will leapfrog, they will become the leaders and the rest of the world will be catching up.”