Rebecca Hawkes ©RapidTVNews | 27-07-2011

A recorded rise of 15% in TV viewers for the AFC Champions League so far this year across Asia and the Middle East points to the growing popularity of club football in the region.

New research shows that the first two stages of the competition this year attracted a television audience of 155 million across Australia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – with Japan’s Asahi TV registering almost half (45.2%)of overall viewers (69.85 million) in these nations during the 104 matches played so far.

“We have seen significant growth in television audiences and live attendances for the AFC Champions League over the past five years and we expect this trend to continue,” said Pierre Kakhia, president, West Asia, World Sport Group, the AFC’s marketing and media partner.

Indeed, almost 62 million viewers have tuned into AFC Champions League action in China, up 65% on 2010, while Saudi Arabia recorded the third largest TV audience share (over 10.8 million) by country – according to data compiled by World Sport Group in association with CSM Media Research, Kantar Sports, Video Research Ltd, Pan Arab Research Centre (PARC), and Repucom.

Chinese state broadcaster CCTV5 has registered 44.3 million viewers, up 146% from 18 million last year, with the remainder of the audience tuning into matches screened by provincial networks in China. The average number of viewers in China per match during the competition’s first two stages grew from 324,889 to 426,138.

It is the first time that TV ratings have been available for the AFC Champions League anywhere in the Middle East, but the opening action in the tournament - screened regionally by Abu Dhabi Sports, Al Jazeera Sports, Al Kass and Dubai Sports - attracted 14.36 million viewers in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar. A total of 844,000 viewers from the small peninsular state of Qatar watched televised coverage of the league’s group and last 16 stages, while the UAE drew an audience of over 2.71 million.

A big increase in Indonesia’s ratings came as nearly 7 million viewers flocked around TVs to watch local club Arema Indonesia’s group stage campaign on free-to-air broadcaster RCTI. The average ratings per match soared to 1.16 million from 384,000 in 2010; a 203% increase on last year’s audience in Indonesia.

Overall TV ratings in Australia, China, Indonesia, Japan and Korea jumped 13%, from 124.4 million in the 2010 AFC Champions League season to 140.2 million.

“Asian fans are devoted supporters of their local club teams and as Asia’s top club competition, the AFC Champions League has a wide and passionate following across the region,” added Mr Kakhia. “We will continue to provide comprehensive live coverage throughout the Asia Pacific region to ensure that fans don’t miss any of the action and excitement from the league.”

The quarter finals kick off on 14 September, featuring Cerezo Osaka (Japan), Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (Korea), Al-Ittihad (Saudi Arabia), FC Seoul (Korea), Foolad Mobarekeh Sepahan (Iran), Al Sadd (Qatar), Suwon Samsung Bluewings (Korea) and Zobahan (Iran)