Thursday, January 11, 2007

Asian Cup to boost sports tourism and sponsorship

The well attended and professionally presented gala draw of the Asian Football Confederation's 2007 Asian Cup in Kuala Lumpur was also shown live throughout Asia on television. Interest is exceptionally high as the 7-29 July tournament will be held in four countries, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam, the first time an Asian Cup has been held in multiple countries. The top two teams from each group will advance to the knockout stage, which will culminate in the final in Jakarta on 29 July.

While the announcements of each of the participating countries' placements at the draw were treated with due respect, (including Saudi Arabia which refused to be included in the Bangkok or Hanoi groups for non-football, political reasons), excitement mounted for the whereabouts of heavyweights China, Japan, South Korea and Australia; as much for the tourists and sponsorship opportunities they might bring to the host countries as for their technical excellence .

A host-country delegate told Asian Football Business Review, "we'll get few visitors from the Middle East countries, they don't have commercial brands in our region who sponsor football and they don't have big television audiences." Indonesia was pleased to be delivered South Korea as the Korean community in Jakarta has more than doubled in the last six years to 30,000 and the tourism industry is targeting 200,000 Korean visitors in 2007. Indonesia is currently the third-largest destination for Korea's overseas investment with a total of 570 companies including Samsung and LG.

Vietnam will receive Japan and is looking forward to a surge in Japanese visitors. The Vietnam National Administration of Tourism expects to double the number of Japanese tourists to 500,000 in 2007. Japan is also now the second biggest foreign investor in Vietnam Since 2005, Vietnam has seen a spate of big investment projects by prominent Japanese firms such as Yamaha Motor Co and Mabuchi Motor Co, which invested $48 million and $40 million, respectively. Small and medium-sized Japanese firms are also reportedly flocking to Vietnam.

Thailand hosts the Australians in their Asian Cup debut. Despite a year marked by political protests and a coup in September, the Tourism Authority of Thailand said its US$13 billion tourism industry has rebounded and has a target of 14.8 million foreign tourists for 2007. Australian chief coach Graham Arnold believes many of them will be football fans, particularly as Australia will be fielding a team of its European-based stars. "The interest is massive (back home). We will have a huge contingent of Australians going to Thailand to have a holiday at the same time," he said.

There seemed a sigh of relief from Malaysians when China was placed in the Kuala Lumpur group. Malaysia's tourist industry is substantial (over 15 million per year, compared to 5 million in Indonesia) and China has become a very important source of tourist arrivals, exceeded only by South East Asia. Some 30 million Chinese are traveling abroad these days and Malaysia was confident of welcoming 420,000 Chinese tourists in 2006 and more in 2007. “"We are delighted that Malaysia was selected as one of the four hosts, as it coincides with our Visit Malaysia 2007 campaign year in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of Malaysia’s Independence. We look forward to celebrating through football!,” Tourism Malaysia Director General Dato’ Mirza Muhammad Taiyab said.

Bigger than tourism, the Asian Cup produces an enormous television viewing audience, confirming it as one of the largest sports events in the world in its own right. The tournament draws an international broadcast audience of more than a billion people. The final alone in 2004 was beamed to 120 countries and watched by 450 million viewers just in Asia – making it the biggest single TV event in the Asian sporting calendar and Japan’s top rating program in 2004. In China a staggering 43.1 per cent of people tuned in to CCTV to watch China play in their first Asian Cup final in 20 years.

On the football side, Australia, Iran, Japan and South Korea, the top four teams according to FIFA rankings, were seeded before the draw under a new classification system, which ensured that they would not have to play each other until the knockout stage. It is a break from the past when teams were seeded solely on the basis of their performance in the previous AFC Asian Cup competition.

Link to: 2007 AFC Asian Cup Schedule of Matches

AS A GUIDE TO PERFORMANCES IN JULY, all eyes will be on two regional tournaments commencing from Friday, 12 January, as 10 of the Asian Cup's 16 finalists will be competing in either the ASEAN Football Federation Championship (formerly Tiger Cup) or the Arabian Gulf Cup.

Group A of the 2007 AFF Championship will play in Bangkok and Group B in Singapore. The teams are (A) Malaysia, Philippines, Myanmar and Thailand and (B) Indonesia, Laos, Vietnam and Singapore.

Link to: 2007 AFF Championship Schedule of Matches

The Arabian Gulf Cup (not to be confused with the Persian Gulf Cup, the title of the Iran Premier League competition) is held every two years and open to Arab teams from around "the Gulf". The participating teams in Abu Dhabi are (A) Qatar; Iraq; Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and (B) Kuwait; Yemen; United Arab Emirates and Oman.

Link to: 2007 Arabian Gulf Cup Schedule of Matches

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