Friday, December 16, 2005

What European football thinks of Asian prospects

“In recent years capturing the Asian market has become a holy grail for Europe's leading clubs”, the official UEFA website has noted. According to writer Paul Saffer, “the attraction is obvious: Asia is the most populous continent, much of it is either already wealthy or, like China, in the midst of a boom, and satellite television has spread the word about European football”.

Mentioning Liverpool FC’s visit to Japan for the FIFA Club World Championship, Saffer observed that while that trip was for “a competitive purpose, there is no doubt that there is money to be made in the Far East …”

Japanese journalist Atsushi Nakayama told uefa.com: "With the number of games shown on TV now increased, there is virtually no one who doesn't know the UEFA Champions League among football fans." Top Asian players joining European clubs has helped with this. "They certainly have helped to increase the name value of the UEFA Cup. Shinji Ono, Hidetoshi Nakata, Koji Nakata and Naohiro Takahara have all played in the competition this season," he added.

“Of course the Asian market will only truly be of lasting benefit to European clubs if they lay down roots, rather than attempting to cash in swiftly - as seen when some tours this summer attracted surprisingly low crowds. The increasingly knowledgable fans are no longer happy to turn up just to see their heroes in the flesh, feeling the friendly games do not compare to the competitive UEFA Champions League fixtures they see on television,” commented Saffer.

For example, FC Bayern München’s head of international affairs, Martin Hägele, told uefa.com that “to become the best club in the world … we also have to become a highly regarded brand in Asia. Many clubs in Europe regard the Asian market as a cow to milk but not to feed. But the people in Asia only build up confidence and trust very slowly. We want to have partnerships in which both sides give and take. We do not go to Asia in order to just sell our shirts. We go there in order to arrange friendships and serious partnerships," he said.

“That is the key,” concluded Saffer. “Clubs know their supporters at home will stick by them through thick and thin, otherwise their future would be bleak. If they can attract similar loyalty from fans thousands of kilometres away, the financial rewards will be huge. In the modern game, that is nothing to be bashful about.”

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