World / Reporter's Journal

China's soccer attendance catching up to European giants'

By William Hennelly in New York (China Daily USA) Updated: 2016-01-21 09:36

China's soccer attendance catching up to European giants'With the growing passion for soccer in China, it's not surprising that attendance at the country's professional matches is climbing.

The Chinese Super League (CSL) has had the highest growth in average attendance of all competitions analyzed by the Football Benchmark team at KPMG Sports Practice in Budapest, Hungary.

The study compared attendance in the CSL, Major League Soccer (MLS) in the United States and the Indian Super League (ISL) with the five major professional leagues in Europe.

The CSL saw a 16.7 percent increase compared with its 2014 season. The CSL now has an average attendance above 21,800, a few hundred spectators fewer than that of Italy's Serie A and France's Ligue 1.

"I believe we are only at the beginning of this growth cycle and that soon the CSL will become a highly successful and valuable football league," Andrea Sartori, global head of sport at KPMG Advisory Ltd, told China Daily. "In the meanwhile, the selling price of TV rights of major football leagues broadcasted in China is climbing sharply."

Unlike the traditional European leagues, CSL, MLS and ISL follow a calendar-year season. According to KPMG, all three leagues passed 20,000 in average attendance in the recently completed season.

Although still far behind Germany's Bundesliga and England's Premier League, the three newer leagues' attendance has caught up with Serie A, Ligue 1 and Spain's La Liga.

Sartori also mentioned "the growing interest of iconic football players and trainers" – such as Marcello Lippi (former Italian national coach) joining Guangzhou a few years ago – in moving to CSL clubs.

And then there is the steady flow of Brazilian internationals who are paid millions to join Chinese teams.

Tianjin Quanjian FC of China's League 1 plans to purchase the rights to Brazilian striker Geuvanio Santos Silva, 23, for 30 million euros ($32.7 million).

Another Brazilian striker, Luiz Adriano de Souza da Silva who plays for A.C. Milan in Italy, this week agreed to a transfer to Jiangsu Suning of the CSL.

Carlos Gilberto Nascimento Silva (known as Gil) this week accepted a transfer from Brazil top-flight team Corinthians to Shandong Luneng.

Sartori said large Chinese corporations also are embracing soccer.

"This is proven by the investments of Wanda Group in Atletico Madrid and China Media Capital and CITIC Capital in (the) Manchester City global network of teams, which also includes the New York City Football Club," he said.

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