City expand into China, and how far beyond?

Manchester City have signed a new three-year deal with China’s leading internet and mobile rights provider.

City boss Sven-Goran Eriksson is in Shanghai today to sign the agreement with Premier Goals which sees the launch of the Blues Chinese language website. The deal also includes a mobile communications agreement covering SMS, MMS and WAP services.

Chinese fans will be able to catch up with exclusive weekly written blogs from Sven and Chinese national star Jihai Sun.

The deal is valued in six figures annually and will offer video content on the Chinese website. The site is geo-blocked to ensure that only fans in China can view the video.

Premier Goals is the leading provider of localised web and mobile rights in China to football clubs and football federations. The company enjoys a strategic partnership with sohu.com, one of the major Chinese web portals with 40 million unique users per day. Sohu is the hosting partner of the 2008 Beijing Olympics site.

There are currently 162m internet users in China and by 2010 it is estimated that there will be more than 250m. The country currently has 480m mobile phone users – a number growing annually by 60m.



Manchester City have announced a strategic partnership with Chinese computer gaming company The 9 Group

The9 Group focusses on developing massive multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG's). Part-owned by EA Sports, The9 is a major player in China's huge computer gaming market, and they have the licence to market EA's 'FIFA Online' game in China. The9 also hold a 50% stake in MSN China.

City Chairman Dr Thaksin Shinawatra has said: "This strategic partnership with The9 will be very important for the future of the football club.

"The9 is a market leader in China’s vast and growing computer gaming market and through their affiliation with EA Sports have the exclusive rights to market the 'FIFA Online' football game in China. We believe that our partnership will help Manchester City become a major brand in the virtual world."

The9 Group CEO, Mr. Jun Zhu says: "I am delighted to enter into a partnership with Manchester City. City is a club clearly making great progress and we wish to explore new commercial opportunities with The Blues."

The Blues have agreed a deal to take three Chinese stars on trial from newly announced partner club Shanghai Shen Hua.

Twenty-one-year-old striker, Gao Lin, will be joined at the Carrington Training Centre by 19-year-old goalkeeper, Wang Da Lei and 22-year-old midfielder, Mao Jianqing.

Shen Hua head coach, Wu Jinqui, said of the trio: "All three players are young, fresh and talented.

"They have a great attitude to their football and are being given a wonderful opportunity to impress at Manchester City."

-mcfc.co.uk

Since the new owners took control of the club, global expansion and promoting the club on a wider scale has definitely been high on the agenda - with the pre-season tour to Sweden, the Thai trialists and also now the establishing academies and club tie-ups around the world being initiatives seen so far.

The past few seasons have seen the Premier League expand on an unprecedented scale, with TV deals both in the UK and (perhaps more importantly) on a global scale reach record levels.

Wih vast outlays being made to purchase clubs, both Dr Thaksin and his band of foreign owners are obviously looking to seek new avenues and markets to recoup that outlay, and indeed turn it into a profit, with the two big markets of course being the USA and Far East.

The Far East is somewhere we have a natural progression towards, of course with the ownership of the club and also Sun Jihai's presence in the side - and China in particular is a market which could be extremely lucrative going forwards.

Indeed, to illustrate this, the NBA saw an audience of over 200 million viewers in China this week for an NBA game which featured two Chinese players - Yao Ming and Yi Jianlian, when the Houston Rockets and Milwaukee Bucks met last Friday.

To take this a step further, this season has seen the NBA, NFL and NHL stage regular season games - not meaningless friendlies or exhibitions, here in London as all leagues seek to grow their worldwide audience, and of course generate even more dollars into their (and the owners) coffers.

And given the way ownership of Premier League clubs has fallen into foreign ownership the past couple of seasons, could the Premier League follow suit and stage an actual league game overseas - with the USA the most likely destination both in terms of logistics and to grow a market?

Look around at pre-season tours these days and most clubs are making forays into the foreign markets - staging exhibitions and playing in tournaments across the USA and Far East. I believe the Far East has a natural market for the Premier League already, which leaves the USA as an untapped market, with real potential to grow. Mock David Beckham all you like, but the impact he has had in terms of generating interest in football has been phenomenal and it is in the USA I expect a Premier League game to be staged within five years.

I certainly believe that this could something negotiated (or demanded) during the next round of TV talks, and I expect that initially a Community Shield game could be played overseas - as a precursur to the 'real thing' a season or so later and then even seeing every side play overseas over a particular time span.

Logistically, it could be easily staged during a week where there are no Cup or Champions League commitments - allowing for plenty of preparation and recovery time. I don't doubt it would be an unpopular move amongst fans of he clubs involved, having to lose a home game from the fixture list but where money talks, high profile leagues (and clubs) will generally follow.

I am surprised that this suggestion hasn't been talked up on a bigger scale throughout the wider mainstream media, but it is something I am absolutely convinced that will occur - and sooner rather than later.

It may not be popular amongst the 'ordinary' fan, but when was the last time their opinion counted for anything?




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