English Premier League soccer club Manchester United has signed a new partnership deal with Alibaba Group, that will see select matches and other content broadcast on the Chinese company’s online video-streaming platform Youku.
Manchester United will also sell merchandise via a virtual store in Alibaba’s online marketplace Tmall, as part of the deal.
The deal will provide the soccer club with access to hundreds of millions of consumers across Alibaba’s platforms. In turn, Alibaba will gain exclusive rights to matches and original content from Manchester United, a club with a huge following in China and across Asia.
“We’re proud of our passionate and loyal following around the world and our Chinese fans are a huge part of that,” said Manchester United Group Managing Director Richard Arnold.
“We are always looking for new ways to engage with fans there and this partnership with Alibaba enables them to connect with the club directly through one of China’s most popular video streaming platforms. We’re looking forward to working with Alibaba to further grow our fan base in China and building on other areas of the partnership in the near future.”
The partnership will include selected first-team matches, highlights and localized original productions. There will also be a dedicated Manchester United channel on Youku, which is one of China’s major online streaming media platforms.
The channel will feature academy, women’s and first-team tour games, plus first-team matches shown on-demand as well as China-specific content.
In March, Youku signed a partnership deal with another English Premier League club, Wolverhampton Wanderers, which is owned by Chinese conglomerate Fosun.
China’s online video market has become intensely competitive in recent years, with Youku, Tencent Video and iQiyi emerging as key players.
Youku has invested heavily in sports content to increase its viewership, and has signed previous deals to broadcast the FIFA World Cup, the FA Cup, the Premier League, and the NFL. Meanwhile, Youku affiliate Alibaba Cloud was named the presenting partner of the FIFA Club World Cup in 2017.
The deal with Manchester United-the most successful club in English top division history-taps into a large Asian fanbase. The club has several commercial and sponsorship deals across the region, where the team regularly visits for pre-season tours and international club competitions.
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Despite failing to capture a league title in six years, Manchester United is still well ahead of the competition on Chinese digital platforms, according to Shanghai-based sports marketing company Mailman.
Last year, Manchester United claimed more followers and interactions than any other European club on Chinese social media platforms Weibo and WeChat.
Clubs are now also turning their attention to emerging digital platforms. This year Spanish club Real Madrid ramped up activity on Douyin and Toutiao, gaining more than 1 million followers in the process, the most of any European side.