By Simon Evans
MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) – Premier League soccer club Manchester United have agreed a partnership with e-commerce giant Alibaba in an effort to extend the club’s engagement with fans in China.
The deal will see Alibaba provide club content on its online video platform Youku and develop a future club store on the company’s business-to-consumer platform Tmall.com.
The deal is the latest move by United to engage with the Chinese market following the launch of a Chinese language app and plans for “experience centres” across the country.
“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,” said Manchester United Group Managing Director Richard Arnold in a statement on Friday.
While existing Premier League broadcast deals restrict United from broadcasting live league matches on Youku, a leading online video service in China, United will have a dedicated club channel on the platform which will show a range of content.
United said the channel, which will be linked to the Youku Sport portal, will feature “academy, women’s and first team tour games, plus first team games shown on-demand and global and China-specific content.”
United said content will be avaliable to Alibaba’s “around 700 million consumers”.
The club already produces a large amount of content for its MUTV channel in the United Kingdom.
While United will be able to provide their large fan base in China with fresh localised content, the major revenue generating aspect will come from the online marketplace on Tmall.com.
United said they were “collaborating to establish a future Manchester United flagship store” on the platform which would sell club merchandise to Chinese consumers.
“It will be linked from the Youku channel, creating a seamless content and ecommerce experience. Manchester United and Alibaba will also provide business partners with robust marketing solutions to promote their products and brands across Alibaba’s platforms.”
Last month United opened an ‘Experience Preview Centre’ in Beijing, offering a taste of the full-scale venue that they intend to open in 2020 and then replicate across the country.
The centre provides a full-scale replica of Old Trafford’s Trinity Statue, an interactive showcase of the club’s most historic moments and triumphs, a replica of the players’ tunnel and changing rooms and houses the first official Manchester United Megastore in mainland China.
While United continue to be one of the top revenue generators in the global game, their fortunes on the field have been less impressive of late.
The club finished sixth in the Premier League last season, failing to qualify for the Champions League and they are currently in sixth place again ahead of Saturday’s derby with Manchester City.
After sacking Portuguese manager Jose Mourinho last December, the club has begun a squad rebuild with new boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer focused on younger players.
United beat Mourinho’s new club Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 at Old Trafford on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Toby Davis)