English Soccer Club Manchester United to Launch 24-Hour TV Channel in China

Manchester United vs. Manchester City H 2015
AP Images/Invision

Soccer has seen explosive growth in the world's most populous nation, where Man U claims some 108 million fans — nearly double the population of the U.K.

China's swelling ranks of Manchester United supporters will soon be able to keep tabs on their favorite British soccer club 24 hours a day.

On Sunday, Sina Sports, the sports platform of Chinese internet giant Sina, will begin broadcasting the English Premiership club's MUTV channel through its websites and mobile app, offering Man U-dedicated news, match highlights and special features.

Soccer has enjoyed an explosion of popularity in China, thanks to both government and corporate endorsement of the sport. Chinese president Xi Jinping is an avowed Manchester United fan, which has helped the club attract a claimed 108 million supporters in China — nearly twice the population of the entire United Kingdom.

During his state visit to the U.K. in October, however, Xi was forced to visit his team's nearby arch rival, Manchester City, as part of a diplomatic tour with British prime minister David Cameron. A few weeks after the visit, CMC, a Chinese consortium, announced that it was buying a 13 percent stake in City Football Group, which owns Manchester City, for $400 million.

In January of last year, Dalian Wanda Group, which is poised to acquire a controlling stake in Hollywood movie studio Legendary Entertainment, acquired a 20 percent state in Spanish soccer club Atletico Madrid. 

Arthur Wei, senior vice-president of Sina, which also owns the influential Chinese social media service Weibo, told the Financial Times that the new 24-hour MUTV deal "will make great strides to change the way China watches and understands the game of football.”

Financial terms were not disclosed, but analysts say they expect the channel is more of an audience- and sponsorship-building exercise for Man U. MUTV will be aired for free.