Sunday, July 03, 2005

European clubs "stampede" to brand Asia

Ian Hawkey of the Sunday Times writes that the summer exodus of top European clubs to Asia is “now a stampede, and it’s money that’s driving the eagerness”. Almost 20 clubs from Europe’s top leagues are scheduled for appearances in Japan, China, Korea or Thailand, “destinations regarded 10 years ago as novelties and now in danger of seizing up with football from May to July”.

The clubs include the champions of England, Spain, Italy, Germany, France and Holland, Chelsea, Barcelona, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Lyon and PSV Eindhoven respectively, Real Madrid, Manchester United Real Zaragoza, Feyenoord, Bolton Everton and Manchester City.

United can regard themselves as pioneers. In 1995, Old Trafford’s then head of marketing, Edward Freedman, persuaded his board to tour the Far East ahead of a proposal to go to America, where promoters were offering £100,000 more. United have been alternating between the States and Asia ever since, went to mainland China as European champions in 1999 and, after a four- summer absence from the Far East, will spread four matches across eight days in three territories later this month.

“I think we stole a march on the others,” recalls Freedman, now an independent consultant. “But it’s still an area that’s poorly understood by English clubs. It’s haphazard. They follow each other over there like sheep, go there for the match fees and do nothing about marketing themselves in these countries before and after the tours.”

The fees vary hugely: while Madrid and United will typically negotiate upwards of $1m (£565,000) a game, Everton will expect about half that from their two matches in Thailand. “The fees should only be part of it,” adds Freedman. “It’s an amazing market, but not for short-term gain, because you want to establish local partnerships.”

The way not to do so, as United and others have discovered, is by fielding teams without the club’s emblem players; nor, as Real Madrid found out, by expressing your appreciation when the mayor of Beijing closes the Forbidden City in order that the galacticos can visit it with a declaration from the Madrid captain, Raul, that the players have refused to go to the site.

On the same tour, in 2003, Madrid were described as “bloodsuckers” by the head of the Asian Football Confederation for their financial demands.

Some clubs are introducing innovations to pre-promote their tours: Bayern Munich took a group of Japanese journalists to Germany to provide them with a detailed backgrounding to the club. “With a club like Real Madrid, people can’t access the stars,” said Martin Hagele, Bayern Munich’s director of international relations. The Germany more open access approach included sleeping in hotel beds “used by Oliver Kahn and Michael Ballack.”