In 2004, the Chinese Football Association formed the Chinese Super League. At the time, it proved to be a notable breakthrough for a country that boasted a promising future in football. For a period, the division took the world of sport by storm, spending significant amounts of money on big-name signings. On paper, the CSL, and its ability to attract well-known stars, speaks volumes about the growth of China’s football industry. That said, the project of enhancing the sports’ profile in the country is still very much in its infancy.
Although the CSL has attracted increasing numbers of spectators to the league, there’s still a long way to go before China can class itself as a leading player in the industry. However, over time, further growth isn’t out of the question. With that in mind, let’s delve into China’s football market and consider how it can secure future progression.
An Engaging Market with Immense Promise
Along with being one of China’s most popular sports, football’s also one of the most influential within the East Asian country. Unfortunately, that hasn’t always resulted in positivity, with local supporters often criticising the national teams’ performances at international competitions, such as the FIFA World Cup. Because of that, plans have been put in place to transform China into a leading football figure. Recent proposals have seen the sport become a central part of China’s economic development. Interestingly, the plan is a three-part strategy, which results in the East Asian country winning a World Cup by 2050.
On paper, such an achievement feels like a pipe dream. However, the proposal’s significance doesn’t lie in its intended outcome, but in its very existence. Aiming high is admirable, and it speaks volumes about the ongoing collective dream to boost Chinese football. Whether or not the concept becomes a reality remains unknown, but it’s clear that local efforts exist to turn the country into a future footballing powerhouse.
Fascinatingly, China’s football-supporting audience size can’t be understated. Research from COPA90 found that the East Asian country possesses the world’s most engaged football fans. According to the findings, 57 percent of Chinese supporters were active on social media. By comparison, the global average sat at 40 percent. Although China’s yet to light up the international stage, the country’s supporters remain immersed in global football. As such, the three-step plan mentioned above will undoubtedly play a part in unlocking the hidden potentials of an already-captivating market.
Along with social media engagement, China’s online sports betting market also showcases recent progressive forward steps. Governed by the Chinese government, the activity has become a more common leisure practice. As such, many of the best sports betting sites in China now host football-related markets. Because of that, prospective bettors can explore various opportunities, including outright odds relating to the Chinese Super League and the English Premier League. This extra avenue into engagement with the CSL, as well as other international leagues, shows that the market is there in the country for even further growth.
Wu Lei Epitomises Local Growth
To enhance the quality of local players, the Chinese Football Association announced an overseas signing tax of 100 per cent in the CSL. Not only that, but a foreign salary cap was also imposed. Although this impacts the volume of big-name arrivals that the CSL can secure, it undoubtedly provides a more sustainable foundation to grow the country’s football industry.
Undoubtedly, there’s talent in China, and Wu Lei is a prime example of that. Although Shanghai SIPG signed Hulk and Oscar in the mid-2010s, the now-29-year-old remained the team’s most important player. To date, he’s the club’s leading goalscorer, with 151 goals in 296 appearances. After a successful 13 years in the CSL, the 2018 Chinese Football Association Footballer of the Year joined RCD Espanyol in January 2019.
At the time, the Blanquiazules were in the Spanish top flight, a division striving to surpass the Premier League’s global popularity. The 29-year-old’s move to Europe was a testament to the CSL’s ability to create and nurture capable local talent. Following the transfer, Espanyol’s qualification for the 2019-20 Europa League gave Wu Lei a platform to showcase his talent on a globally-watched stage. Throughout the competition, he featured in seven matches. He also scored one goal in a two-goal win against CSKA Moscow at the VEB Arena.
Chinese Football’s Future Looks Bright
Although there are no guarantees that China will fulfil its intended World Cup ambition by 2050, the country’s undoubtedly making forward steps. Given that the East Asian region possesses such a passionate football-supporting following, tapping into digital engagement will sustain local interest. Furthermore, following the CSL’s newly-imposed foreign tax, there’s now a need to provide local players with opportunities, which can only be beneficial in the long run.