English Soccer Goes Subscription Only in China

The English Premier League (soccer) is considered the world's most popular, most watched sports league. The league consists of players from all over the world and is considered the very best (or at least in the top 3) soccer league in the world. The English game doesn't always match the beauty of Spain or Italy, though (especially when Arsenal is playing) it often does. However, what it does do is offer an unparalleled degree of excitement on a weekly basis. Its season is incomparable to any other sport or soccer league, going from mid-August to mid-May and the league is made up of players from at least 60 different countries.

In China, the EPL stays true to its "most popular" status, despite the number of soccer choices. The commonly stated figure for Chinese EPL viewers is 30 million, though some have claimed the audience to be between 100 to 360 million people in China alone. The 2007 transfer window saw Zheng Zhi (Charlton), China's national team captain, join Li Tie (Sheffield United), Sun Jihai (Manchester City), and Dong Fangzhou (Manchester United) playing in England. A number of English teams have established Chinese websites and attempted to build a fan base in China (most talked about recently was Chelsea's attempt, which in the end resulted in the QPR brawl).

With that said, it seems like now, more than ever before, Chinese fans are ready to enjoy English soccer. However, those fans are in for a rude awakening. Guangdong Provincial Television outbid all comers (including former holders ESPN/Star and CCTV) for the rights to televise EPL games in China. Recently, they've announced that they will show the games on a subscription-only station, Tiansheng TV. The rumored price tag is RMB 188 (US$24 or so), though they've yet to state how many games will be shown each week. To compare, in the US I pay $20 a month for a combination of Setanta and Fox Soccer Channel and get 7-9 matches each week. Will the price tag prevent Chinese fans from watching their favorite players? Many in the US avoid the cost by going to bars to watch the matches, but that isn't really possible in China where people don't usually go out to watch games and, even if they did, the games are televised live, well after midnight in China.

Will Chinese fans go for this subscription policy? Will the subscription only policy force more fans to the internet tv/bittorrent option, which is already very popular? Alternatively, will the policy effectively kill the bittorrent option, since the majority of these torrents come from China? With Chinese fans obsessed with English soccer and English soccer teams obsessed with the Chinese market, its going to be interesting to see how this change effects things (especially in light of the NBA's inroads).

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