Loughborough University
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Business model innovation in the ecosystem of the Chinese Super League

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posted on 2021-11-24, 13:46 authored by Shuyang Liu
The Chinese Super League (CSL) has witnessed a dramatic development through the last decade, and CSL football clubs have embraced new business models. This thesis reviewed the CSL with the aim of understanding the new business models in the emerging CSL ecosystem and providing insight into the long-term sustainability of the CSL. The study set out to answer three research questions: RQ 1: What are the business models of CSL clubs?; RQ 2: How do CSL clubs undertake their business model innovations (BMI)?; RQ 3: How does the CSL ecosystem influence the BMI of the clubs?
The research adopts the management concepts of business models (Amit & Zott, 2001; Osterwalder & Pigneur, 2010); business model innovation (Foss & Saebi, 2017; Massa & Tucci) and business ecosystems (Moore, 1996). It investigates how these concepts can guide to explain the business phenomenon in CSL and how these concepts are interacted and connected.
The study employs a multi-case study approach and includes 10 CSL clubs. Data was collected via semi-structured interviews with senior managers from investigated clubs, whilst questionnaires and substantial secondary data were also collected for analysis.
The findings indicate the level of investors’ support differentiate the core capabilities and value creation of CSL football clubs’ business models. Whilst CSL clubs focus on capturing brand value for investors, they have loss-making financial structures that need to be amended urgently. For BMI, Evergrande FC utilised their visionary thinking to design and constantly improve their disruptive business model. Other clubs are either encouraged or forced by Evergrande to adapt their business models based on their strategic positionings. Though Evergrande’s innovative model has led to their dominant success in CSL, it is criticised for jeopardising the collective long-term sustainability of the CSL. The CSL ecosystem was examined via the impact of seven ecosystem factors: clubs, fans, football culture, investors, media, policy, and technology. The data identified that policy and investors are the most significant factors in the CSL ecosystem that have an overwhelming influence on CSL clubs’ BMI decisions. A structural change to club management, the development of the football culture, and the growth of the fanbase of clubs in the CSL ecosystem are expected.
Future research should monitor the upcoming transition of the CSL ecosystem and CSL clubs. It can evaluate the changes in CSL clubs’ value creation and value capture and examine whether sustainability has been implemented within the CSL. This research develops research frameworks that can be applied to analyse the new business models of CSL clubs and the efficiency of future ecosystem structure. Other key CSL ecosystem stakeholders, such as governments and fans, can be the focal points in future research to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the CSL.



  • Loughborough University London


Loughborough University

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© Shuyang Liu

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A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.


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James Skinner ; Anna Grosman

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  • PhD

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  • Doctoral

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