Pirelli to sponsor troubled Chinese Super League

BEIJING - Italian tyre manufacturer Pirelli signed a three-year deal as title sponsors of the troubled Chinese Super League (CSL) on Friday.

The CSL has severe image problems and the capture of a big international brand with links to football is a major boost to the 16-team league, which starts its sixth season on Saturday.

"To revive the depressed CSL is a big a challenge but that's our plan and hope over the next few years," Nan Yong, the deputy chairman of the Chinese Football Association (CFA), told a news conference.

"During a period when many companies are cutting sponsorship in sports marketing, Pirelli are signing a three-year contract with the CSL. This shows their long-term vision."

The financial details were not disclosed but Nan said the sponsorship was worth less than the 5 million euros ($6.84 million) a year reported in local media.

Pirelli has had a long association with Italian champions Inter Milan and is coming to the end of a 10-year shirt sponsorship deal with the Serie A side.

"Pirelli's experience in promoting football will definitely help us close the gap between the CSL and top international leagues," added Nan. Chinese soccer has become associated with violence, protests, crime and allegations of corruption over the last few years and has struggled to attract sponsors.

The CSL's first sponsor, Siemens, departed abruptly after one scandal-ridden season and there was no replacement for 2005.

British company Iphox came on board on the eve of the 2006 season but that partnership ended up in court. Kingway, a domestic brewery, has been sponsor for the last two years.

"The world, as we know, is suffering an economic crisis but we are very optimistic about China's situation," said Giuseppe Cattaneo, chief executive of Pirelli Tyres China.

Cattaneo said he was pleased that state broadcaster CCTV had decided to cover the CSL again. It stopped coverage last November after a massive brawl between Beijing and Tianjin players.