China's Youku Acquires Streaming Rights to 2018 Soccer World Cup

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The company expects as many as 1 billion Chinese viewers to tune in to the global sporting event.

Youku, the flagship streaming service of Jack Ma's Alibaba Group, has acquired the exclusive online rights in China to the 2018 soccer World Cup.

The deal is a partnership with state broadcaster CCTV, the terrestrial television home of World Cup soccer in China. Under the terms of the agreement, Youku will live-stream 64 World Cup matches, along with off-game highlights and coverage.

The FIFA World Cup is the most-watched sporting event in the world, and soccer fandom in China, the world's most populous nation, has soared in recent years. China's national team continues to struggle on the world stage, and the country won't be represented at the 2018 tournament. But the Chinese government is eager to elevate the nation's state of play and has regularly invested in building out the sport — even China's President Xi Jinping is known to be an avid fan of the game.

The 2018 World Cup is set to be held in various venues around Russia from June 14 to July 15. Youku estimates that as many as 1 billion viewers across Greater China may tune in to its World Cup coverage. The company noted that viewership for the 2018 tournament will grow considerably over the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, thanks to the relative geographic proximity of Russia to China, which will allow more key games to be enjoyed during primetime.