Fast forward to the summer of 2020. Over £500 million of talent is on display in Birmingham as Chinese Super League teams Guangzhou Evergrande and Shanghai Shenhua prepare to do battle against Chinese-owned Aston Villa and Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Evergrande are reigning FIFA Club World Cup champions while Shenhua finished runners-up in the AFC Champions League, Asia’s premier competition for clubs, as China’s long march to world football dominance continues.
Some of the world’s most exciting talents are involved in the four-team exhibition tournament at Villa Park as the CSL enters its brief summer hiatus with the two Birmingham clubs stepping up their pre-season preparations.
Football’s newest big show has come of age and Sky Sports have been quick to capitalise on the growing number of summer friendlies in Europe involving Chinese Super League teams by securing exclusive broadcast rights.
Is such a scenario far from becoming reality?
Not so, according to Sky Sports’ Head of Football Gary Hughes. Last week, the British pay-TV platform announced it had sealed a deal with IMG to broadcast live Chinese Super League matches through to 2018, and on the evidence of the first two games the move is set to pay dividends, with eleven goals scored, a host of recognised stars on show and a style of play which, according to the early scrutiny of several pundits, is comparable to the Premier League.
“The CSL is an interesting league and has been getting a lot of headlines recently, so this was a great opportunity to add to our portfolio of international leagues and raise awareness of what is happening in China,” Hughes told GlobalSportsJobs. “All the big money transfers, players like Ramires, Alex Teixeira and Jackson Martinez moving over there in their prime, and Chinese takeovers of English clubs, all translates into growing interest in the CSL.”
Viewing figures from last weekend’s games indicate that Sky are on to a winner, but for Hughes it’s too soon to draw conclusions: “It’s early days yet, but live football always resonates with our viewers, whether it’s the Eredivisie, the MLS, or La Liga, which obviously has a different appeal. We’ve put the CSL out there and the games are on in the morning over here when there are no other live games on, so we’ll see where it goes.”
China is well on course to challenge the current status quo in football’s ever changing landscape. More big names are expected to follow in the footsteps of recent arrivals Hulk and Graziano Pellè, and with no current end to the spending spree in sight, is the sky the limit for the CSL?
“The MLS is twenty years old this year and they are growing all the time and trying to attract as many star players as possible, but I think that China have a lot more behind their league,” said Hughes. “I don’t think they can compete on the same level as the Premier League, but it will be interesting to see where it is in five years from now. With all the money being spent, it could be anything.”
An ever increasing global appetite for consumption of sports media translates into more job opportunities. Sky Sports alone currently has nine openings advertised on GlobalSportsJobs. “Sport is a big business, a growing business, and the media landscape is changing all the time,” said Hughes. “There are massive opportunities for people who want to make their mark in the world of media, social and digital. Look at what they have done in America, for example. You don’t know what’s going to happen next.”
Those fantasy fixtures in Birmingham might be a few years away yet, but in the meantime UK football fans will get a glimpse of the future on Saturday 13 August when Sky Sports shows live coverage of Shanghai Shenhua versus Guangzhou Evergrande.
Give your career in sport a boost with the latest live vacancies in Media, Technology & Broadcast, or create an account today and stay up to date with all the latest industry knowledge, events and jobs in sport.