Chinese Super League plots foray into online soccer games with deal
BEIJING (Reuters) - China's top-flight soccer league has signed a deal with a local developer to produce online soccer games in its first foray into gaming as it searches for new sources of revenue.
The Chinese Super League (CSL) said on Monday that it had signed a six-year partnership with Beijing-based developer Crazy Sports to develop soccer-related games based on 16 CSL teams and the league through 2022.
Fans of soccer video games such as Electronic Arts Inc's top-selling FIFA franchise, have been closely watching the CSL's gaming plans as its deep-pocketed teams have recruited global stars such as Carlos Tevez, Oscar and Hulk in recent months.
EA in June poured cold water on rumors that the CSL would feature in "FIFA 18", the latest version of the franchise, citing licensing issues, according to sports website goal.com. EA has deals with leagues around the world including the English Premier League and Italian Serie A.
Crazy Sports said the CSL deal, that would give it non-exclusive rights, was worth over 100 million yuan ($15.02 million). Streaming revenue from the CSL-themed games could reach 1 billion yuan in 2020, the firm's chief executive Peng Xitao said.
"The Chinese Super League is dedicated to expanding the influence and commercial value of the league. The development of CSL-themed games is a new revenue growth point for the league," said CSL's chairman Ma Chengquan.
They said that they would also make the games' content accessible to overseas gamers through European gaming partners From the Bench and Soccer Manager.
Crazy Sports, which also previously ran an online lottery platform through a separate business tie-up until the Chinese government started banning online lottery sales in 2015, said it hoped to convert its over 100 million sports lottery users to play the CSL games.
China's soccer industry has lured in billions of yuan investment since President Xi Jinping, a self-professed soccer fan who repeatedly expressed desire for China to host a World Cup and eventually win one, came to power in 2012.
A five-year deal to broadcast the games in China was sold at a record-high 8 billion yuan in 2015 to China Sports Media.
($1 = 6.6565 Chinese yuan renminbi)
(Reporting by Pei Li in BEIJING and Brenda Goh in SHANGHAI; Editing by Michael Perry)