Chelsea signs with for Mandarin website

English Premier League club Chelsea believes it has taken an advantage in the Chinese market by contracting internet portal Sina to establish a Mandarin version of its new website by next year. The Premiership champions, who claim their popularity in China is now three times above the average for English clubs, opted for the Nasdaq-listed company because it is based in Beijing rather than Hong Kong.

"The club is ranked fourth of all foreign clubs in terms of popularity in China narrowly behind Manchester United and ahead of Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid," China Daily earlier reported. Chelsea already have partnerships in China and last April began cooperating with the Chinese Football Association and the Asian Football Confederation to develop football at local level.

"This partnership marks the next stage of Chelsea's development in China. Clearly we are becoming more popular and this is the right time to take that to the next level," Paul Smith, Chelsea's Business Affairs Director, said in a statement quoted by Reuters.

“We don’t just want to be one of the classic European clubs going on tour in the summer for the highest fee and then evaporate. We actually want to have some kind of legacy with countries and help them develop but we can only do it one country at a time and we have chosen to do that in Asia because that’s where we have our strongest appeal. We’ll paint Asia blue and then we’ll turn to Africa," he said, as quoted by Simon Lewis of The Irish Examiner.

According to David Bland in The Telegraph, the club is confident that Sina's close links with the Chinese government, with whom they have an agreement to self police any material deemed "unhealthy" on political, sexual or religious grounds, will help the club to avoid falling foul of state censors and increase their support.

Figures released by British telecoms watchdog Ofcom show 43 million homes in China now have a broadband connection. Access to the internet is growing faster there than in any other country in the world. However Sina was one of two internet companies whose search engine services were temporarily blocked by the government in June this year while censors carried out checks for sensitive content.