Marketing, Asian Players & Football
European clubs have discovered the Far East holds lots of untapped revenue by AtTheMatch
During his time at Manchester United Park Ji-Sung could never be regarded as one of the club’s best players. He was not a regular starter and when he did play it was rare he featured in the same position more than two or three games in a row. The perfect midfield utility player – he never kicked up a fuss when he was on the bench and when he did play gave the archetypal 100%. It is clear though that United had signed him for more than just his footballing ability, namely the fact that he was able to tap into the then undiscovered revenue streams in East Asia.As a result of Park playing for several years at United their brand grew exponentially in South Korea in particular. Over a million Koreans have a United-branded credit or debit card with many of them having Park’s face planted on the front. The Red Devils earn an undisclosed sum from each.
The club also played sell-out pre-season games in South Korea’s capital, Seoul, twice when Park was with them. The income from those matches was in the millions and as a result United have embarked on regular tours to the Far East, with a visit to China scheduled for next summer.
Data shows that 40 million South Koreans watch United games on TV every season and the club has launched a Korean language website that attracts 4 million people annually. That platform is seen as vital by some of United’s sponsors and partners, such as Nike, who can deliver pitches to consumers in a language and style that works locally.
Add to that the income from shirts, club cafes and sponsor related income as well as overseas TV rights, United are pulling in big money from a relatively new market.
The signing of Dong Fangzhou was born through a similar desire to break into the Chinese market, as well as the talent he showed at such a young age. Sadly for the Red Devils his move didn’t work out though their brand did evolve in the country, even if Dong’s didn’t in Europe.
Another club though in Everton had – somewhat remarkably – already established themselves as China’s number one Premier League club. This was done by signing a sponsorship deal with a Chinese company called Keijan in 2002. As part of the deal the Toffees earnt £1 million a season for two years, as well as singing two Chinese internationals, Lie Tie and Li Weifeng on 12-month loans.
Everton also planned to tour China, set up a Chinese based club and create a Mandarin page on its official website through which merchandise could be sold, though not all of these came to fruition. For Keijan it was a chance to advertise their brand in Europe – a win win situation for both.
A few games into the 2002-2003 season Everton had overtaken both Liverpool and Manchester United as China’s favourite team. Lie Tie had established himself in the Blue’s midfield as the club enjoyed their best ever start to a Premier League season.
On 1 January 2003, a staggering 365 million Chinese viewers watched Everton play Manchester City on Chinese television. Sun Jihai, another Chinese hero, was playing for City. The end result was an audience in the Far East that was 200 times larger than the game would have attracted in England. By the following month the Chinese version of Everton’s website had attracted more than 3 million hits.
The deal with Keijan was not renewed but Everton were now established in the country. They partnered with a regional television station to produce a reality series, which would see the winner gain a place at Everton’s academy. It was watched by 130 million people.
Everton had clearly seen the value in extending their brand into the Far East. In 2004 they signed a deal with Thai beer Chang, which has been consistently renewed and are still sponsors of the club now.
It’s not just the English clubs though who have seen value in the markets of the Far East. A couple of years ago Italian club AC Milan signed Japanese star Keisuke Honda from CSKA Moscow. Within a year of him being at the club he had registered the highest shirt sales out of their entire squad – thanks to his status at home – as well as allowing the club to tap into the vast Japanese market and enhance their revenues.
Perhaps a bigger boost to the club though was the willingness of Japanese investors to come on board. Within six months of him signing two Japanese companies had invested in the club, with Toyo Tires putting in £3 million alone.
It is not just established clubs receiving investment from the Far East though, with Spanish club Rayo Vallecano a case in point. Last summer they signed a new partnership with Chinese mobile internet company Qbao.com to become the club’s main sponsor, for areported €600,000 a season.
As with many other clubs, it was signed with the strategic aim of growing football in China. Many Spanish clubs are in a poor financial straight thanks to the stranglehold over television rights held by Real Madrid and Barcelona. For Rayo this was the perfect deal.
Under the agreement Rayo have to participate every summer in a friendly match in China, this summer they played fellow Qbao sponsored club Real Sociedad, joining the likes of Real, Atletico and Valencia in playing pre-season games in the country.
Worryingly though, the sponsorship agreement included a clause in which the club had to sign a player from the Chinese league. Rayo’s well respected coach Paco Jemez voiced his discontent at this though accepted it in the end, agreeing to bring in Zhang Chengdong. He has failed to make an appearance.
It has become clear in the previous decade that clubs have realised the riches that are to be found in the Far East. Sixteen teams in La Liga have Chinese investment and clubs all over Europe have been signing players to boost their profits. Some work, such as Park and Honda. Some fail, as Park Chu-Young’s ill-fated spell at Arsenal showed. What is clear though is that money will continue to flow into Europe from the Far East for the foreseeable future. European clubs would be silly to ignore it.Click here to stay up to date with AtTheMatch