Arsenal go online in battle to win fans in China

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BEIJING, Oct 9 (Reuters) One of the world's biggest football clubs came to the world's fastest growing major economy today when Arsenal managing director Keith Edelman launched a Chinese language Web site (arsenal.tom.com).

The English club announced a turnover of 408.6 million dollars last month to put it in the top echelon of revenue earners in football and Edelman said he hoped millions of Chinese fans would one day contribute to those earnings.

''We're a club that looks to the future,'' he told the launch ceremony.

''We see China as a very, very important market. We want to be part of China and let them see the things we do and the wonderful football in England.

''This all part of developing our brand and our fan base and clearly in the long-run we're here to make revenues, to improve football and to develop clubs in other parts of the world,'' he added.

Edelman said Arsenal would not follow the likes of Manchester United, Barcelona and Real Madrid by bringing their players on a tour of China but other more grassroots activities were planned.

''Our team does not travel to the Far East in the close season and we don't have plans to do that at present,'' he said.

''We have joint ventures in Thailand and Vietnam where we help develop young players. This is a precursor to that kind of activity.'' Edelman said he hoped the Web site would help rapidly increase the number of fans of the North London club among the 1.3 billion Chinese.

NEW VENTURES ''We known there are 50 million people that support Arsenal and we believe about four million will sit in China,'' he said.

''So with these new ventures we should be more than doubling that over the next 12 to 24 months.'' The sale of the Premier League television rights in China for this season to a small satellite television company means all but a tiny minority of Chinese football fans will be unable to see the action from the English top flight.

The club's commercial director Adrian Ford said he was not too concerned that the wonderful football that has taken Arsenal to the top of the Premier League was not available for viewing free-to-air in China.

''I don't think it's a big issue short-term but over the long term, we'll have to see how it evolves,'' he told Reuters.

''In the long-term we have to be mindful of the revenue versus exposure debate.'' Arsenal are just the latest in a string of English clubs who have embarked on projects in China over the last few years including Chelsea, Manchester United, Bolton Wanderers and Sheffield United.

Few, if any, have been able to show any real returns yet.

''I don't think we're in a hurry to get a return from China but there are ways that we can deliver benefits to China and benefit ourselves,'' Ford added.

''We're in for the long-haul...'' REUTERS BJR RAI1319

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