Chelsea CEO claims Real Madrid "raped" China

Peter Kenyon, the CEO of English Premier League club Chelsea has criticised other European football clubs for having "raped" the Peoples Republic of China for revenue and talent. "They raped the game for revenues and the best talent and there was almost a backlash," he told the International Football Arena conference in Zurich. "China needs technical support, coaching, facilities, diet, tactics and medical. That's a long-term process." Real Madrid was one of 13 European clubs to play exhibition matches in China in 2005, charging as much as $100 for tickets, more than 30 times the cost of a local game. Such profiteering may alienate Chinese fans, Kenyon said.

Teams in Europe's top five leagues are looking to fans in the world's most populous nation to lift combined revenue that rose 8 percent to US$8.1 billion in 2005, according to Deloitte & Touche LLP. However, Chinese players have had mixed success in Europe, prompting criticism they were only acquired so that their clubs could sell more merchandise to fans in the Asian country.

Ryan Mills of Bloomberg pointed out that Manchester United's Dong Fangzhou is on loan at Belgium's Royal Antwerp while awaiting a U.K. work permit. Li Tie has made one appearance for Sheffield United since joining in August. Li moved from Everton, where he played in just five league games in three years after featuring in 29 during a yearlong loan. Du Wei played 45 minutes for Scottish champion Celtic before returning to Shanghai Shenhua, while Sun Jihai has made 121 appearances for Manchester City in four years.

Real Madrid, football's biggest team by revenue, played a preseason match in Hong Kong in 2003 and returned last year to beat Beijing Hyundai. Organizers of the 2003 match said they paid Madrid US$4.7 million. Madrid was only there for the money, 96 percent of Chinese fans in a survey on wesite said, while 62 percent of ticket buyers said they wouldn't watch the team again. The experience may have put fans off watching other clubs. European champion Barcelona's 2005 exhibition match against Shenzhen Jian Li Bao drew 8,000 fans, 12 percent of the average support at its home matches in Spain.

"Real Madrid was a disaster," John Yan, vice-president of Beijing-based sports publisher Titan Sports, said in an interview. "They came over, took the money and went. I don't think they'll be back for a while." Real Madrid didn't respond to Bloomberg requests for information about the matches. "Big names don't guarantee attendances," said Yan. `"Society has changed a lot. There are so many choices and attractions."

Chelsea in April signed an agreement to help the Asian Football Confederation with it Vision Asia program that aims to raise standards of administration and coaching in the sport. Sheffield United, newly promoted to the English Premier League this season has gone further than any other club, buying Chinese second-division club Chengdu Blades last year. It has spent US$1.14 million on the team and facilities including a retail outlet and club-branded bar in downtown Chengdu, a city of 11 million people. "We're looking at westernising the club, putting in place things that are standard here," Chief Executive Jason Rockett said in an interview. ``This is part of a well thought out, long- term strategy."

Better playing standards will boost fan numbers and participation in China, said John Kristick, a director of Infront Sports & Media Group, which is working with the Chinese Football Association on marketing. "Things don't happen overnight," Kristick said in Zurich. "They need the structures so they can excel on the pitch. It needs the right management and vision."

Kenyon agreed, saying that the game won't flourish on television coverage of foreign leagues alone. "China needs a strong national team or domestic league," said Kenyon, a former chief executive of Manchester United which toured Asia during his six years at the club. "Until that occurs, it won't turn the corner. You can't build it on the back of ESPN."