John Yan: Football is vanishing from Chongqing 一个升级顶级联赛成功的老牌俱乐部

A newly promoted club to the Chinese Super League has suddenly became the club most likely to be bought out. The story surrounding Chongqing Lifan FC, has become the latest major headline in Chinese football.

Chongqing is one of the four municipality cities in China, along with Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin. It is politically the most important city in the southwest of China, and experienced a great political earthquake in recent years as Mr. Bo Xilai, the former mayor of Chongqing, was taken into custody for serious misconducts. Observers say that Mr. Bo’s case could be the most extraordinary political case for the past 30 years.

Lifan FC has a history longer than Mr. Bo’s five year reign over the city. It is owned solely by the boss of Lifan Group, Mr. Yin Mingshan, one of the famous entrepreneurs in the opening-up and reforming China. A self-made billionaire, Mr. Yin started his business in early 90s with a curbside motorbike repairing shop. Now he owns a series of motorbike brands, car brands and also has deep investments in real estate and finance. When Lifan Group became a listed company in 2011, Yin’s asserts value surpassed £1 billion.

He purchased the club from a state-owned company 15 years ago, even though he had no interest in football. In Yin’s perspective, football could be a short-cut to national fame, and could turn out to be a useful tool to bargain with the local government for preferential policies and etc. However, these 15 years have not been an easy ride, and when he pumped another 70 million RMB (about £7 million) into the club and got them promoted back to the China Super League, Mr. Yin contacted the municipal government immediately and asked for financial support, otherwise his club would fail to survive a season in the CSL.

The cost of survival is just too high. Henan Jianye FC, another CSL club owned by a private owner, spent more than 200 million RMB (about £20 million) in the 2014 season, and only fought off relegation in the last round. Mr. Yin, with his investments heavily crippled in the financial and real estate markets, could not and would not afford this kind of cost.

The government said no. What else could they say? But this has enraged Mr. Yin, at the age of 76, again. The municipal government has a huge cash mountain, and has invested directly into a local football club, which also played in the second division. The club didn’t last long, was dissolved when they were relegated from the second division in 2013, gone as well was the 100 million RMB the local government invested into the so-called Chongqing FC. But the government didn’t want to pay to save Mr. Yin’s cause.

Whether there will be any newcomers into the club scene remains to be seen, but 2013 and 2014 had been a disastrous year for football supporters in Chongqing.

Mr. Yin is determined to sell up, and could even accept some potential offers that would take his club from Chongqing to other cities.

The Chinese Football Association (CFA) sits in immobility and didn’t do anything to help or stop Mr. Yin’s dismissal of the club’s players.

The cost of survival expense has become too high for most owners in the CSL – that is one of the side effects of the great Guangzhou Evergrande story.

John Yan is Deputy Editor of Netease.com. Contact him at moc.l1516645887iamg@15166458878002g1516645887naiqn1516645887ay1516645887, or on weibo at: http://weibo.com/1646270104/profile?topnav=1&wvr=5

一个升级顶级联赛成功的老牌俱乐部,在升级之后立即要求当地政府加大支持力度,在政府无法满足其要求之后,俱乐部资方立即选择了退出——不论是转卖俱乐部、还是转卖并且同意俱乐部离开重庆,甚至倘若无人接手,则任由俱乐部消失,尹明善这次是真的要离开足球了。

重庆力帆的退出,给看似进入牛市氛围的中国足球,打了狠狠的一记耳光。76岁的力帆老板尹明善,持有这个俱乐部15年之后,最终还是选择了放弃。他肯定没能从足球身上得到他想要的回报,力帆的退出,让中国足球很不光彩、让重庆这座城市很不光彩、也让尹明善自己不光彩——他都不能像王健林在1999年放弃大连万达俱乐部那样,底气十足地宣称中国足球环境过于恶劣,所以退出。尹明善放弃力帆,还是因为财力不济,这个在重庆显得相当孤独的民企老板,支撑俱乐部多年之后,玩不下去了。

尹明善、力帆和足球的故事,是中国足球又一个扭曲存在的案例。

尹明善在当年带领力帆摩托的崛起,是改革开放初期标准版的励志故事,一个白手起家的教师,渐入老境时开始创业,从最初开设修理厂,逐渐走上摩托车乃至汽车的产业化发展道路,这种传奇经历,让尹明善一度得到了重庆市政协副主席这种奖掖民企代表的”红顶”。力帆摩托车,作为一种城市化代步的过渡产品,带来过巨大财富,也让尹明善从商人当中脱颖而出。不过他最终名闻江湖,还是因为1999年从前卫寰岛手中收购了这个顶级联赛俱乐部,并且15年来始终坚持在重庆市场的奋斗。

尹明善介入足球的目的,和同时代投资足球的中国企业,不论国企民企,基本上类似:通过足球提升自己的知名度以及政治地位、实现企业品牌转移,以及增加自身和政府沟通乃至博弈的资本。这样带有强烈功利目标的足球投资人,从来都不会少、未来也肯定会大量存在。可是各地政府对于足球的态度不一,整体上,各地方政府从甲A时代到2004年开始的中超时代,其支持力度呈下降趋势。早年有过”成都保卫战”那种强烈政府干预足球的故事,已经不太可能再现。尹明善介入足球,恰恰错过了第一波政府大力扶持的阶段。

执掌重庆力帆15年,整体投入据说超过6亿人民币,可是换来的竞技成绩,居然是4次降级,这样的答卷,显然不是重庆球迷所愿意看到的。几乎从介入足球开始,尹明善就在积极争取当地政府的支持,但力帆俱乐部与地方政府的关系梳理得似乎一直不顺当,十年前就有过因为缺乏政府支持,尹明善想要转让俱乐部的说法。类似传闻,几乎每年都会在媒体或者足球行业内流转,尹明善几乎每次都选择了坚持。

2014年从中甲升级成功,是尹明善对于降级之后”要争一口气”的坚持。他也看到了足球大环境的改变,看到了高层领导对足球的关注。这种坚持,未必不是对未来收益的一种期待。于是2014升级成功后,力帆对政府提出的求援申请,不仅仅是赛事运营环境的优化,更希望得到政府财政资金的支持、或者由政府出面,让一些大型国企通过股份制合作、广告投放等方式来支持力帆。这样的要求,在原则上将足球交给市场的地方政府看来,肯定不可能满足。于是在坚持力帆俱乐部数年之后,尤其在摩托车汽车等实业项目利润额缩水、近年进入的金融和房地产项目错过了黄金市场时机的企业现状下,倔强的尹明善决定放弃。

这样的放弃,会是根本性的放弃,至少这是力帆现在对外传播的口径。有人觉得这是力帆对当地政府的一次逼宫,只是现在的地方政府,不会为了足球所谓的”城市名片”作用,就拿地方财政收入或其他硬资源,来支持职业足球这种从九十年代初就号称”职业化”的行业。职业足球从重庆消失,或许就在眼前。

这是一种无奈的事实。谁都不能指责尹明善不爱足球,即便他对足球缺乏真正深厚的感情,毕竟他坚持了15年;他想利用足球的杠杆作用,获取其他社会资源,这是同时代商人们都会选择的便捷路径,只是尹明善不够走远,介入足球慢了半拍、离开的时间,又可能早了半拍。

重庆这座城市和足球的关联,也充满着非理性元素。尹明善一直得不到政府支持,可政府在力帆降级之后,用了3年时间、上亿人民币的资金,去主导重庆FC。这个俱乐部的出现,不但没有给重庆带来”德比”,反倒让力帆在市区内无立足之地。最终重庆FC降级崩盘,力帆即便升级成功,也面临着灰暗前程。

经营一个中超俱乐部,在如今看似升温的中国足球环境下,成本几何?河南建业2014赛季保级的成本是2亿人民币。尹明善不愿意再承担这样的成本,而重庆这样一座境况复杂的城市,还看不到任何接下来的应对策略。本土化足球是否重要?重庆还没有答案。

John Yan is Deputy Editor of Netease.com. Contact him at moc.l1516645887iamg@15166458878002g1516645887naiqn1516645887ay1516645887, or on weibo at: http://weibo.com/1646270104/profile?topnav=1&wvr=5