Man City deal with Chinese consortium will improve image

LONDON: A major investment from a Chinese consortium gives Manchester City a good chance of gaining ground on English Premier League rivals Manchester United and Arsenal for popularity in the world's most populous nation.

Manchester City announced this week that state-backed China Media Capital and investment company Citic Capital paid around $400 million for a 13 percent stake in the team's parent company, City Football Group.

CFG, owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyana, also owns the New York City and Melbourne City soccer teams and has a 20 percent stake in Yokohama F. Marinos.

City has won two of the last four English titles but lacks the European success and support around the world commanded by some other Premier League sides.

United had the most support of Premier League fans in China at 31.98 percent, followed by Arsenal with 22.65 percent, then Chelsea with a similar share, according Gu Xin, an analyst at Beijing sports marketing company Yutang Sports.

City's share was 5.47 percent.

"If City aims to become the most popular European football team, they will need to contest against not only those English teams but also other European football giants like Barcelona, Real Madrid or even Bayern Munich," Gu said. "Overall, it all depends on what the club does."

European clubs' struggle for marketing success in China is down to aggressive sales-driven tactics, according to Simon Chadwick, professor of sports enterprise at England's Salford University.

"This type of approach only disaffects and antagonizes some Chinese people," Chadwick said. "Hence, City's approach is rather more considered, and strategic, and could succeed where others have failed. Working in partnership with the Chinese is the way to break into China."

City has some advantages in this respect.

Former China international Sun Jihai, who played for City from 2002-08, was made a club ambassador in September, and was inducted to the Manchester-based National Football Museum's Hall of Fame in October while Chinese President Xi Jinping was visiting.

"The Chinese president doesn't normally attend such events unless they are of the utmost importance," Chadwick said. "The fact that he visited City tends to suggest just how important this deal is for China and its football ambitions."

"This time last year, China announced a plan to create a domestic sport economy worth $850 billion by 2025. An important part of this vision is China's desire to bid for, host, and win the World Cup. Buying City is a way of acquiring competence, intelligence, and insights into football."

There has been speculation in China that a Chinese club could be the next addition to the CFG stable, with Beijing Guoan the most likely candidate.

Buying a Chinese club is the next logical step according to Christopher Atkins, a Guangzhou-based player representative with RWMG Sports, but just the beginning.

"There is no reason why the Chinese Super League cannot establish itself as the best non-European league," Atkins said. "The addition of the knowledge that a company like CFG can bring would surely only help. I expect CFG to look into the prospect of an academy in China in the fairly short-term future.

If they can produce China's first superstar, their status in the market would be elevated yet further."