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Pay-TV turns off China football fans
By Michael Bristow
BBC News, Beijing


China's enthusiastic band of football fans have failed to sign up to watch the English Premier League on a new pay-per-view format.

Top-flight English matches were previously available for free on television and had a potential audience of 30 million.

But that changed when broadcaster WinTV bought the rights to broadcast Premier League games in China for three seasons, starting this year.

WinTV now admits it has managed to attract only 20,000 customers willing to pay the 588 yuan (£39; $80) annual fee.

A company spokeswoman said it was proving difficult to persuade Chinese football fans to pay to watch matches that were previously free.

"We're just trying to promote this concept, the idea that people should pay for this kind of service. It will take some time," she said.

Angry fans

The broadcaster, based in southern Guangdong province, has even enlisted the help of former England national team manager Sven Goren Erickson.

Erickson, who now manages Premier League team Manchester City, gives a video message on the broadcaster's website, urging fans to sign up.


"Even if you live in England and want to see matches on television you have to pay for it," he tells Chinese fans.

WinTV bought the rights to screen English Premier League matches for three years in February for a reputed $50m.

At the time company chief executive Song Zheng seemed confident he could attract enough customers to make a profit.

"It's time to say goodbye to those TV channels that provided Premier League games free of charge," he said.

"It will be difficult to change this habit in the beginning, but I believe that more and more people will choose pay-TV in the future."

But it appears that convincing Chinese football fans to put their hands in their pockets is proving harder than Mr Song initially thought.

Many are angry at having to pay for something that was previously free.

Shao Shengyi, a television sports commentator and football fan, said although he could afford the subscription fee, he was refusing to pay on principle.

"You are going to need time to get some Chinese people to change their mind - and I am one of those," said Mr Shao, who works for Chinese Central Television.

But he added: "I have some friends who are so crazy about the Premier League, they have decided to just pay up."

Switching loyalties


In order to defray some of its costs, WinTV has sold the rights to broadcast matches over the internet to Chinese online media company SINA.

SINA charges an annual subscription fee of 380 yuan (£26; $52).

Football fans can also pay 3.8 yuan (£0.3; $0.5) for each individual match.

Despite that move, some Chinese media reports suggest that WinTV is already set to make a loss this year on its Premier League service.

Premier League clubs will also be unhappy to hear that their product has lost millions of fans in just one season.

Many have spent time and money in an attempt to extend their fan base in China by activities such as touring the country.

Arsenal are the latest English club to join the hunt for Chinese fans, launching a Chinese-language website in October.


In a video message played at the launch ceremony in Beijing, the club's manager, Arsene Wenger, made it clear that China's 1.3 billion stock of potential fans could not be ignored.

"You now have the largest population in the world and we would like to make them all Arsenal fans," Wenger said.


But Premier League clubs do not just have to face the problem of a smaller fan base.

Another obstacle is that rival European leagues from Italy, France and Germany are still aired for free on Chinese television.

Rowan Simons, who promotes amateur football in China, says Chinese fans show little loyalty to any particular league.

"You won't find many die-hard Premier League fans. Many have already switched to other European leagues," he says.

Those are not comforting words for England's top clubs - or WinTV.

Some Fans views...NOT mine..but copy/pasted because they echo what some (including myself) have been saying for years.

Can't understand why the marketing men get so excited about the Far East. They pay $1 for a knock-off shirt and won't stump-up for PPV. Even an idiot knows this. They sell good quality copy DVDs for the equivalent of 80 pence and guess what? There isn't a branch of HMV trying to sell them to everybody at a tenner a throw because their marketing people are smart enough to realise no-one's going to pay that.

One day somebody is going to wake up and realise that the most important people are the ones who pay the money to come through the turnstiles every week.


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tbh, i think most of the chinese fans are plastic! Just come to take loadza pictures. Easily brainwashed, support whichever team has the biggest star, dey supported us when becks was here then went to support real madrid! Shit fans, no love or knowedge of anything United, clubs just want their money.

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It is the Premier League who has ****ed up here by selling its rights to the higher bidder in China. In China, all football is traditionally available for free on state TV. By selling its arse for a small gain ( I think US$50 million) the PL has isolated itself even more in a country where Italian football is historically more popular (and where far more people are into basketball than football).


As for shirt sales and stuff, I have been saying for years that it is a myth. Nobody in China buys official merchandise. Even in places like Singapore, United are not as popular as the cliches suggest. Far more arsenal and liverpool shirts around.

I think the marketing in China is more about building the brand, but without games on TV, this is going to be a waste of time. The PL have ****ed it up for us, chelsea and Arsenal, which I think is quite funny.


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As for chinese being fickle supporters - too simplistic. They are only fickle in the same way that many english "fans" are fickle. Part time glory hunting band wagon jumping JCLs, same with millions of United, arsewipes, dippers, rentboys fans in every country in the world. The real fans are the ones who have been kicked in the teeth. The ones who used to be able to afford to go to games but have been replaced by plastics who will pay 10 times what true supporters can afford and those that have never even been to Manchester never mind Old Trafford.
Passion ? Love ? Understanding ? Lifelong devotion ? Heartache ? Emotion ?
Give me a break. What would the plastics and armchair supporters know about any of that.
I'd sooner United have 50,000 REAL fans that a hundred million of that sort of shite.


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