SBC News - March 2016

Fine China - What opportunities does the growth of Chinese football have for bookmakers

BC’s Football Odds Expert Jeevan Jeyaratnam takes a look at one of the more ambitious football leagues in the world – the Chinese Super League – and asks how betting can benefit.

Respectable news sources have recently been suggesting that the Chinese government have offered soon-to-be out of contract PSG star Zlatan Ibrahimovic an insane £59M per annum to ply his trade in China. Zlatan at 34 years old represents no resale value and must be seen a colossal loss-leader for the resurgent Super League.

Interestingly the offer is alleged to be part of Communist Leader Xi Jinping’s expansive plans to raise the profile of football in China. There is no indication as for which team Zlatan would play, but there is unlikely to be a shortage of takers.

The emerging Super League teams have little following outside of Asia and, arguably, fans will start to follow players and not clubs. The rise of player power has filled many a column but perhaps the Chinese Super League has sold some of its soul for player power. It is oft said that ‘no player is bigger than the team’, but this norm is being challenged.

Chinese clubs have been trying to attract top talent from the biggest leagues since 2012 when Shanghai Shenhua made waves with the signings of Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba. Owners awash with money from the booming Chinese economy were aiming the spotlight on the country and its ability to compete fiscally with its peers. This early foray all ended rather acrimoniously, amid a chaotic organisational structure and suggestions that players weren’t being recompensed as promised.

Fast forward four years and the Chinese Super League is attempting to succeed where it had previously stumbled. Perhaps tellingly the influence of government, as evidenced in the Zlatan story, indicates that this project has a better chance of success than before. Football is big business in China where average attendances for the Super League were nearly 22,000 last season. Although this campaign is still in its embryonic stages, average attendance has risen to over 28,000 (stats from TransferMrkt).

There is already quality in Chinese football; Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao, co-owned by the Evergrande Real Estate Group and online giant Alibaba, have won the AFC Champions League twice since 2013 and finished 4th in the 2015 FIFA Club World Cup.

This season’s spending spree has seen even unfashionable clubs attracting top talent and it should make the league more competitive than some of its European counterparts. One must presume that the ultimate aim, from the government’s point of view, is to raise the status of the country and improve the national team. Rules for this season’s Super League mean no club can sign more than five foreign players, with no more than four fielded at the same time. Interestingly foreign goalkeepers are prohibited. The Russian Premier League has similar restrictions on foreign signings, though this has been criticised this season, notably by Zenit manager Andre Villas-Boas.

It isn’t just the Super League making a financial statement of intent. The lure of the Super League is helping boost the division below. The second tier clubs have also been spending, the familiar name of Nikica Jelavic is now plying his trade with Beijing Renhe. The north-eastern metropolis of Tianjin is home to Tianjin Quanjian and boast another former Brazil manager, Vanderlei Luxemburgo as coach. He has spent the thick end of £30M on Brazilian and Chinese players this winter. Luis Fabiano, now captain, was signed on a free transfer at the age of 35.

From a bookmaking point of view this season’s developments have the potential to be favourable. The league runs from March to November, crucially offering betting opportunities during the sometimes barren summer months.

The kick-off times are also encouraging, with games on Friday, Saturday and Sunday starting from 07:30GMT to 12:30GMT. We were asked to extend our goalscorer coverage to include the A-League for similar kick-off related reasons, with BT Sport showing every game live. The A-League sides pale in quality versus many of the the Super League teams; it would seem an ideal opportunity for Sky Sports to offer up live coverage to fill their morning schedules.

IMG secured exclusive global TV rights to the 240 Chinese Super League matches in March 2016 and will surely be in the process of offering these to TV companies. It would seem that the Chinese Super League is here to stay this time and it might not be too long before myself and my colleagues at Super Soccer Oddsfeed are pricing up the goalscorer markets through our GPS feed.

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