The English Premier League, La Liga, Ligue 1, Bundesliga, Serie A and… the Chinese Super League? It may be an exaggeration to claim that the Chinese Super League is on par with those other leagues, but, whereas 5 years ago, any comparison would have been ludicrous, it is now not such a stretch to believe that the Chinese league might catch up to its European counterparts in the not too distant future.
There are a number of reasons that the Chinese league is rapidly rising. Ultimately, though, the Chinese are not reinventing the wheel; they are simply going toe to toe with their European counterparts. Despite a lack of TV deals, UEFA Champions League Football, or huge crowds, these Chinese clubs found the financial clout to buy some of the best players in the world. Guangzhou Evergrande was the first club to take the leap, and they are now the premier club in all of Asia. They boast talents like Robinho, Paulinho and Goulart. Their coach, Luis Felipe Scolari, is a World Cup winning coach. Their next mission is to win the Club World Cup. But the Guangzhou club is not alone. Shanghai SIPG has Asamaoah Gyan and Elkeson and is eyeing a move for Robin van Persie. Shanghai Shenhua has Fredy Guarin, Demba Ba, and Tim Cahill. Jiangsu Suning just bought Ramires from Chelsea and stole Alex Teixeira from under Liverpool’s noses. Guangzhou Evergrande just paid 42 million euros for Colombian superstar Jackson Martinez.
And although these clubs lacked TV deals and huge crowds in the past, things are changing just as rapidly off of the pitch as they are on the pitch. Last year saw an average attendance of over 22,000 people, which is a statistic that is on par with the averages in Serie A and Ligue 1. A league official told the Guardian that this season’s attendance average will be over 25,000, and why not? The improvement on the pitch is certainly worthy of greater support off of it. The same official boldly declared that by 2018, the Super League will be the third most-watched soccer league in the world, behind the English Premier League and the Bundesliga.
This possibility is not as far-fetched as it seems. In 2015, the Chinese broadcasters spent $9 million to broadcast Super League games. In 2016 alone, that number will jump to over $200 million as part of a $1.25 billion package over the next five years. Guangzhou Evergrande’s owners raised the value of the club from $15 million to $380 million in just four years. The club is already averaging an attendance over 45,000 people. Indeed, the Chinese Super League has no ceiling.
However, equally important to the Chinese is making strides on the domestic front as well. The overall reconstruction of the league has been strongly encouraged by Xi Jinping, who is the President of China and a massive soccer fan. The Chinese’s lone involvement in the World Cup was in 2002, where they failed to score a goal (CNN). Their lack of success has many reasons, one of which being that most parents don’t want their (usually one) child to pursue soccer when he/she could instead get a “real” job. However, with help from Real Madrid, Guangzhou has supposedly built the nicest soccer academy in the world in an attempt to raise the domestic talent in hopes of one day winning the World Cup. Many high ranking officials believe that the ultimate decider of whether the Chinese can compete with other European superpowers will be determined by their national team’s success in the coming years.
Ultimately, other than the Champions League, the Chinese Super League has every major ingredient to become a successful world power on and off the field. As the Guardian explains, “There’s money, the political will, the infrastructure, the passion, the ambition, and plenty of potential. Talk in Europe of whether the spending is sustainable is misguided. This is just one of many examples of the world’s second largest economy flexing its financial muscles.” And with players like Mario Balotelli, Steven Pienaar, and even Michael Carrick being linked with moves to China, who knows where the Chinese Super League will ultimately rank amongst the world’s best?