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Evergrande ad switch raises sponsor's eyebrows

By Sun Xiaochen | China Daily | Updated: 2015-11-25 07:53

A commercial dispute between Chinese Super League soccer powerhouse Guangzhou Evergrande and its car sponsor has cast a shadow over the club's recent Asian championship achievement while underlining questions of professionalism in sports management.

Two days after it claimed the high-profile AFC Champions League title on Saturday, CSL champion Evergrande became the target of public censure as auto brand Dongfeng Nissan, its jersey advertisement sponsor, said it was suing the club for breach of contract.

In the second leg of the final on Saturday - a 1-0 victory over UAE's Al Ahli - Evergrande replaced the logo of Venucia, Dongfeng Nissan's sub-brand in Chinese market, on the front of players' uniforms with an image of an insurance subsidiary under the Evergrande Group, the team's co-owner.

Dongfeng Nissan, which paid a reported 100 million yuan ($15.7 million) for the club's jersey ad during all games of the 2014-15 season, said in a statement on its website on Monday that it "has taken legal actions against the club".

After rejecting an informal request from the club on Nov 10 for the change, the company received a written notice only "one minute before the game" for the unapproved replacement, the statement said.

Evergrande later issued a statement saying that the club had asked Dongfeng Nissan a month before the game to allow repurchase of the ad for the game but received no response.

The club said it would compensate Dongfeng Nissan for its loss under the breach clause of the two-year contract, adding that it hoped the dispute could be settled through "friendly consultation".

The dispute has sparked a heated debate among fans and observers on the professionalism of Chinese soccer. Evergrande has long been hailed as a model professional sports club in China, with a sound and legal operation.

Zhang Qing, founder of Key-Solution, a sports consultancy, said the debate will help expand awareness of market-oriented professional soccer management.

"One of the core values of professional sports is the spirit of contracts, but the Evergrande case has just presented a bad example," Zhang said.

"Regardless of the legal procedure or the financial reimbursement that Evergrande has to pay, the dispute will draw attention to commercial sports endorsements in China and how to prevent such things from happening again in China's emerging sports market. That will tend to push the professionalization of sports forward in China."

Mark Dreyer, a British observer of Chinese sports, said it's premature to make any judgment on how the case will influence the evolution of Chinese soccer, but it does damage Evergrande's reputation in the market.

"Without knowing the precise terms and conditions of the contract, it's hard to speculate, but it certainly seems as if Evergrande is behaving badly," he said.




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