The SPFL’s Chinese broadcast deal is good PR only


The SPFL have agreed a deal with Letv Sports to show live Scottish football on mainstream television in China for the first time ever.

The three year deal with China’s leading digital sports broadcast platform is worth £1.5 million to show 55 Premiership matches across TV, online and mobile.

MP & SilvaOn paper the deal brokered by MP & Silva on behalf of the SPFL is a good one as it opens our game to a massive market – however all is not what it seems.

In 2013, MP & Silva struck a £20 million deal with the SPFL for the international rights to the Scottish game – meaning the money from the Chinese deal and others will see revenue go into MP & Silva’s coffers rather than the SPFL’s.

No matter how much MP & Silva sell the rights to our game for, the SPFL will only receive £2 million per year over this ten year period. So if the rights are sold to America, Australia, India, China and other nations for hypothetically £2 million per country – the SPFL would still only receive their £2 million from MP & Silva. A similar deal is in operation between IMG and the Scottish FA.

doncasterAfter the announcement of the deal, SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster, said: “It’s a fantastic deal for Scottish football. Clearly, this is a massive market and gives our member clubs a great opportunity to sell themselves to the world’s fastest growing economy.

“Scottish football has an unrivaled history and so many positive stories to tell and we very much look forward to working with Letv Sports and MP & Silva to do just that in the three seasons ahead.”

Letv Sports chief executive Lei Zhenjian added: “It is a great addition to our expanding line-up of premium sportsletv content. Football’s popularity is rising in China and Letv Sports is committed to acquire as many of the world’s top sports properties as possible to serve our sports fans in China.”

Nice PR rhetoric from Neil Doncaster once again only telling half the story.

China is a growing nation of football lovers – but they are passionate about the English Premier League, the Serie A and La Liga. The SPFL as a whole will be hard pushed to make a dent in the Chinese market with only Celtic and Rangers potentially the only two realistic options to make and sort of breakthrough.

A 2013 research study involving around 16,000 football fans in China, showed that the English Premier League is overwhelmingly the favourite national division amongst the Chinese fans with almost 50 per cent of the results. Spain’s La Liga is second and Italy’s Serie A ranks in third place. No great surprise there.

The English Premier League sold their rights in China on a six year basis in 2013 worth £38 million [for the first three years ending in 2016]and that is set to increase in the second three year period. This way helped the EPL break into a huge market known to be a tough nut to crack and allows the English top flight to develop a long term strategy in the Chinese market.

Celtic broke into the Japanese market with the signing of Shunsuke Nakamura – their foothold soon disappeared when the midfielder left – but despite that success they failed to break into the Chinese market even after signing two Chinese players – who proved to be less than successful and that is being kind.

Zheng Zhi, who was the Chinese national team captain at the time, played less than 20 times for the club before leaving and then there was Du Wei who lasted just 45 minutes in a Scottish Cup defeat to Clyde.

In recent years Celtic have returned to China as they look to build a foothold there as they have done in India – with social projects and commercial deals leading the way.


Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell, speaking in 2013, said: “We are going to sign an agreement with a Chinese company who are going to represent us. It’s not investment into the club. It’s sponsorship, commercial and maybe some social projects. We’ll go to Beijing as we have contacts there and it’s all about getting the Celtic name out there. Whether it is through social or grassroots projects, whether it is academies here or sponsorship.

“For a Champions League club, that is the proposition. The difficulty we have in any international sponsorship is the competition, which is mainly the English Premier League. That is the challenge. How do we, playing in Scotland with little exposure, attract sponsorship? Champions League is one. For Chinese companies looking to establish themselves in Europe, they get a bit of profile. For Chinese businesses who are buying brands to take back, it gives profile.

“In terms of our proposition, like we have in India, we have social projects. There are a lot of dislocated communities there and football brings people together. The reason we were formed was to give our community an identity, so that’s a way of getting our brand out there. Champions League. Football. Community. That’s our proposition. Hopefully, they like us and our values and want to be part of it.“

charlesgreen1Previous Rangers chief Charles Green, outlined his own aspirations for a move into the Chinese market – which involved the establishment of training academies = from which new players would be recruited for the senior squad. That proved as fruitless as his other ideas and claims.

It followed on from his predecessor Craig Whyte, who had tried to follow Celtic’s path into India by drafting in four trialists from the sub continent, but it went belly up before the club lurched into administration and subsequently liquidation.

Realistically would any other club in the Scottish game have a chance of succeeding in the Chinese market? Can you see kids buying Kilmarnock, Hibernian, Inverness Caley or even Alloa tops? Celtic and Rangers would be hard pushed to sell a significant amount of merchandise to make their flirtations worthwhile – Scottish clubs are finding it hard to sell their merchandise in the Scottish marketplace with kids prefering to buy Barcelona, Real Madrid or English club tops instead of their local sides or even Celtic and Rangers. What makes the SPFL think anything would be different in China?

The SPFL is nothing more than filler within the digital sports channel schedule – as it is with our own broadcasters. The EPL is the cash cow for every sports broadcaster worldwide – and Neil Doncaster and his cronies have the Scottish game as some sort of pooper scooper walking behind the EPL horse hoping to pick up a few scraps to feed on.

Currently there are no Chinese businessmen involved in EPL clubs – or at least with a significant percentage to hand them a controlling stake – Liu Xingcheng is the only Chinese businessman in the English game at all with a signifcant shareholding to be classed as a co-owner with 11.27% in Championship side Birmingham City.

Does this deal wet the appetite of the SPFL who are hoping for Chinese investment in our clubs? Could a Chinese consortium come in to takeover the likes of St.Mirren and fund a resurgence of the Paisley side to get them back to ‘where they belong’ in the Scottish Premiership? Subsequently funding a challenge to Celtic and Aberdeen at the top of the table with European football the ultimate goal? Remember the last foreigner who claimed he would lead his new club to this goal – Vladimir Romanov, formerly of Hearts.

Or would it be more plausible to see Chinese investment directed more towards the bigger sides in the Premiership – such as Celtic, Aberdeen, Hearts or Dundee United – as European qualification is more realistic?

You will notice I did not include Rangers – this is because recent history of their fans behaviour has shown us that potential outside investment – specifically a controlling stake – from anyone except for ‘good Rangers men’ is unwanted and treated with contempt, be it from an American businessman who owns an NBA side to another who owns an NFL team or an Englishman who owns a Rugby outfit.


It is more realistic [sadly]to look at the worst case scenario and see the SPFL deal coming to an end in three years time with little interest in China for the Scottish game and no renewal. This isn’t helped by the fact Scottish football is currently fronted by two of the biggest buffoons going in the guise of Stewart Regan and Neil Doncaster.

If our game is marketed and promoted properly then Scottish football [as a whole]in China may have a slight chance, but with these two buffoons in office you can bet on it being an unmitigated disaster and will be quickly forgotten about by 99% of the Scottish clubs and by the Chinese footballing fraternity as a whole.

Celtic, currently, are the most likely club to profit from this deal – their games are already shown predominantly on BT Sport and Sky Sports as well as to an overseas audience – their worldwide fan base is self evident of that and with the attraction of European football on offer, they would leave their nearest rivals in the TV market – Rangers – behind them.

Will they succeed in China? It may take five or even ten years to properly answer that question – but with Peter Lawwell at the helm he will certainly be pushing for more in-roads into China and India – than any other chief executive in the Scottish game.

The deal on paper alone is great PR for the SPFL. They can now boast of having their games broadcast in the People’s Republic of China – and push celebratory quotes to the Scottish mainstream media.

patnevinBut if you ask yourself honestly – whether you are a fan, a journalist, a club official or a member of the governing body – do you really think Scottish football in China can be a success? How would success be rated?

After all, our own broadcast outlets produce a piss poor coverage of our game – even with Celtic and Rangers on the table – what hope does our game have abroad if they rely on our media’s feeds?

Pat Nevin and Craig Paterson on Chinese TV – god help them!


About Author


Andy Muirhead is the Editor of Scotzine and the Scottish Football fanzine FITBA. He is the Scottish Football columnist for The Morning Star and has written for a number of other publications including ESPN, Huffington Post UK, BT Life's a Pitch and has had his work featured in the Daily Record, The Scotsman and the Daily Mail.

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