The 2012 Chinese Super League awards ceremony in Guangzhou, Nov. 8. (Photo/Xinhua)
The development of China's professional soccer league is closely associated with the real estate industry, as 14 of the 16 teams which comprise the Chinese Super League are owned by realtors or firms with links to the industry. Property tycoons spend huge amounts of money to support and develop their teams, recruiting internationally renowned players with contracts worth millions of dollars.
Of the various sports popular in China, soccer tops them all. The beautiful game has become a platform for the country's super wealthy to parade and exercise their status, wealth and power.
Guangzhou Evergrande FC, owned by Evergrande Real Estate Group, is a conspicuous example. Since 2009, the company has spent big money hiring international star coaches and players for the club, greatly boosting its profile. In 2010, Evergrande invested 170 million yuan (US$27 million) in the team, rising to 530 million yuan (US$85 million) in 2011 and 370 million (US$59 million) this year.
Following Evergrande's lead, each of the 15 other clubs in China's top flight stepped up their investment in their teams in this year, drawing yet more well-known coaches and players to China. A veteran soccer commentator notes that total investments in league teams already exceed 3 billion yuan (US$480 million) this year.
For three consecutive seasons, with the financial backing of Evergrande Real Estate, Guangzhou Evergrande have won the league championship. Alongside the team's extraordinary performance, Evergrande Real Estate has enjoyed rapid growth in revenue, topping 30 billion yuan (US$4.8 billion) in 2009, 50 billion yuan (US$8 billion) in 2010, 80 billion yuan (US$12.8 billion) in 2011, and 73 billion yuan (US$12 billion) in the first 10 months of this year. The company today is the second-largest property firm in China, trailing only Vanke. Xu Jiayin, chairman of Evergrande, remarks that investment in the company's soccer team has proved a shrewd move and generated a tenfold return.
Liu Xiaowu, a professional soccer manager, says that for realty firms, sports sponsorships can provide a long-term marketing channel. A broadcast of an Evergrande FC match on state broadcaster CCTV is tantamount to 90-minute ad for Evergrande Real Estate, Liu asys.
In addition, management of soccer team can help a company improve its relationship with the local government.
Serious investment in international talent has greatly enhanced the domestic profile of the Chinese league, with matches attracting large audiences. China is a popular choice for international stars who fancy a big payday as they approach the end of their careers, such as Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba, who followed each other out of leading English club Chelsea to join Shanghai Shenhua.
In 2012, the average attendance at a match stood at 18,740, with an average TV viewership reaching a staggering 300 million. In 2011, the average match attendance reached 17,765, putting China 10th place worldwide and first in Asia in terms of spectator numbers.