English Premier League club Manchester United targets China after tough season

No China Slowdown For Manchester United
No China slowdown for Manchester United   

While the sporting media obsess over who will manage England's biggest club next season and speculate which new players will be signed to bring back the glory days, the man tasked with bringing in the money remains very confident about the prospects for the soccer club over the long term.

That's because he's looking at China and the rest of Asia.

‎"We have 110 million of our 659 million fans living here so it is a hugely important part of the world," said Richard Arnold, the managing director of Manchester United, in an exclusive interview with CNBC at the Boao Forum in southern China.

‎"We have been coming here since 1975 and always taken the opinion that it needs to be a long term view, that you build and you invest in the relationship and the partnership and that over the long term you will benefit from that."

Monetizing those 110 millions fans is not as easy as it sounds. While many people can be seen wearing Manchester United shirts on the streets of Beijing or Shanghai, the majority won't be official shirts bringing money onto the club's balance sheet.

Manchester United
Matthew Ashton | AMA | Getty Images
Manchester United

But Arnold said he's focused on the long term, adding that over time the money will pour in. For now, the team is focusing on outreach. Arnold noted that the team is sending groups of coaches to local schools to work with the football community.

Until that pays off, the team will have to console itself with media deals.

For example, Arnold noted that Manchester United will play its arch rival Manchester City in China during a tour in August. While Arnold doesn't expect his club will be playing a competitive Premier League fixture in China anytime soon, the media rights to matches there can be worth billions -- The Sky Sports channel recently signed a 5 billion pound ($7.05 billion) three-year deal to broadcast Premier League matches live. ‎These kind of deals will continue as the media firms battle control.

‎"The games that we play are some of the most-viewed television in any genre in the world. You have got two hours of live television on a billion homes around the world. We are about half the TV audience, I think the Premier League said the last time they quoted it," Arnold said.

To be sure, Manchester United's relatively poor performance on the pitch since legendary manager Alex Ferguson left the club in 2013 has impacted revenue. The club lost European Champions League money last season, something it is likely to have to live with next season unless it can pull off a stunning run until the end of the current domestic campaign.

Arnold is not too worried by this prospect though.

"We are 140 years old," he said. "We have amazing days and we have not so amazing days. Sunday was amazing, the Thursday before was pretty heart-wrenching and one of the things that is fantastic about both the sport and then our fans is uncertainty is what makes it fantastic."

Last week, Manchester United and Liverpool were both charged by UEFA over crowd disturbances, including the throwing of objects, at a Europa League game which United lost on aggregate to its arch rival.

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