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Monday, April 19, 2021, 18:02
CSL scores for fans with streaming deal
By Shi Futian
Monday, April 19, 2021, 18:02 By Shi Futian

Zhang Yuning (center) and Li Ke (left) keep on their toes during a Beijing Guo'an training session in Beijing on April 11 under newly appointed Croatian head coach Slaven Bilic. (PHOTO / XINHUA)

The end of the Chinese Super League's (CSL) big-spending era and the resulting exodus of star foreign players has inevitably had a knock-on effect for the CSL's broadcast deals-and with the league now forced to go the free live-streaming route, the big winners are the fans.

On Thursday, the CSL announced that digital platform Dongqiudi has acquired the league's non-exclusive live-streaming rights for the next three seasons. In recent years, fans needed to pay subscription fees to watch live CSL games online.

News of the deal came just days before the start of the 2021 season on Tuesday, in two host cities-Guangzhou, Guangdong province, and Suzhou, Jiangsu province.

Eight-time champion Guangzhou FC (formerly Guangzhou Evergrande until the CSL instructed teams to drop corporate backers from their names earlier this year) will kick off the campaign in a local derby against Guangzhou City, with Chongqing Liangjiang Athletic taking on Shandong Taishan in the opening fixture in Suzhou.

Dongqiudi will offer four free live matches per round, available on its app and website. The platform will also offer fans other content, including CSL stats, news, short videos and online fan community features.

Now, with strict transfer and salary caps in place as the Chinese Super League leaves behind its days of lavish spending, it is being forced to adopt a more cut-price approach with its broadcast partners, and believes non-exclusive deals are the best way forward

"The Chinese Super League pays high attention to the fans' experience. The league believes fans are the foundation of China's domestic soccer league," said a CSL statement on Thursday.

"The key to future development is to keep upgrading the quality of our service to fans and cultivate our soccer culture.

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"In the future, the CSL will be more open and transparent. Through our cooperation with Dongqiudi, the CSL is aiming to have closer interaction with the fans. We will listen to each other and share the fun of soccer.

"The league also values the ecology of the Chinese soccer community. New ways of online communication attract the next generation of fans. Through this cooperation, we hope to meet the needs of younger fans and interact in more dynamic ways."

The CSL has another three-year streaming rights deal in place-with Tencent Sports, announced on Wednesday.

The league is putting together a series of non-exclusive streaming deals after the collapse of an exclusive deal with PP Sports, which fell behind in payments to the CSL after parent company Suning Group encountered severe financial problems in 2020.

PP Sports also reneged on payments in its rights deal with the English Premier League. Suning's financial issues led to the collapse of 2020 CSL champion Jiangsu Suning, which in February was forced to cease operations just a few months after winning its maiden top-flight title.

The PP Sports contract had been the centerpiece of a wider CSL contract agreed with China Sports Media. In 2015, the CSL signed an 8 billion yuan (US$1.2 billion) rights deal with CSM until 2020.

In 2018, the deal was renegotiated to 11 billion yuan, for the period 2016-25.

However, according to reports, the deal has been terminated after CSM began to miss payments in 2020 due to financial difficulties blamed on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, with strict transfer and salary caps in place as the CSL leaves behind its days of lavish spending, the league is being forced to adopt a more cut-price approach with its broadcast partners, and believes non-exclusive deals are the best way forward.

Other online streaming deals are also thought to be in the pipeline, while the CSL will reportedly continue to work with national free-to-air network China Central Television, as well as regional broadcasters.

"We thought about buying the CSL's copyright years before. But it was too expensive. Now the price is reasonable," said Chen Cong, the CEO of Dongqiudi.

"Our core ideas remain in place-to serve the fans and meet their demands. We will continue our investment to level up our service quality.

"We are an online soccer community, and soccer is our roots. For years, fans have watched soccer news and communicated with each other on our platform. Offering CSL live-streaming is a vital element to serve our fans and build a better soccer community.

"Our advantage is the ecology of our platform. Through years of dedication, we have great user interaction on our platform.

"From the business perspective, it's hard to profit through livestreaming the CSL matches, but this is a really important element for our users.

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"As long as we can reach the deal, we should do it. And we will look for more copyright cooperation with other soccer leagues."

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