Chelsea, the English Premier League soccer champion, hired an agency to market players such as record signing Fernando Torres to China and other countries.
ECN Management, which says it has expertise in China, will find branding opportunities for Chelsea, Torres and 18 other players whose image rights are owned by the Blues, the company said in an e-mailed statement. Chelsea meets Manchester United in a game that may decide the league title on May 8.
Chelsea is trying to boost its global profile and increase revenue to reduce reliance on billionaire owner Roman Abramovich, who has put about 700 million pounds of equity into the club since buying it in 2003. The club needs to cut its losses ahead of new rules on fiscal discipline being introduced by European soccer’s governing body after its full-year accounts recorded a loss of 70.9 million pounds for 2009.
“Football in emerging markets, particularly in China is the most exciting growth business in sports,” ECN’s Managing Director Frederick Blackford said in the statement. “Chelsea players are some of the most prominent ambassadors of the world game.”
While Abramovich’s spending has turned Chelsea into one of Europe’s leading teams, winning three Premier League titles and regularly qualifying for the latter stages of the elite Champions League, the club has failed to find a sponsor to buy naming rights to its Stamford Bridge stadium for more than a year. The current roster has 16 national team members that represent 11 countries.
Its lead partner is South Korea’s Samsung Electronics Co. and the club sponsors the Asian Football Confederation, the governing body for soccer in the region.
Still, breaking into China may not be easy. The National Basketball Association attracts more viewers than Premier League soccer, which suffered when it signed a television contract that restricted its audience to as low as 20,000 in a country of more than 1.3 billion, according to the Guardian. A new Chinese contract, which includes some free telecasts, means millions can watch.
The U.K.-based ECN Management has “the local knowledge in China and experience required to give our players profile,” Chelsea Chief Executive Officer Ron Gourlay said. “We hope to work closely to build on our players’ image and reputation in China.”
Chelsea agreed to pay Liverpool 50 million pounds for Torres in January. It also on the same day bought David Luiz for about 25 million pounds. The Blues also own the image rights to Luiz, a central defender who plays on the Brazil national squad. Spain’s Torres has scored once since moving to Stamford Bridge.