English Asian Football Frenzy
Football has long been a money spinner for English clubs that enjoy a strong following in Asia, but the coming season could be the most lucrative yet, particularly in terms of television rights. Recent figures suggest that intense bidding in Asia for rights to the English Premiere League have sent prices sky high. In Singapore, for example, SingTel bid 200 million pounds to oust StarHub, which had paid 67 million pounds for rights in the 2007-2010 contract round. Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, i-Cable paid 146 million pounds to replace PCCW’s Now TV, which previously lashed out 115 million pounds.
But pan-Asian influences in English football don't stop at pay per view. Since Thailand's ousted Prime Minister acquired (and later sold) Manchester City in 2007, other Asian investors have become key players in football finance. The latest is Chinese businessman Kenny Huang who recently launched a bid to buy Premier League club Liverpool from its controversial American owners. Huang, a US citizen born in Guangdong is reported to have approached Liverpool's main creditor the Royal Bank of Scotland as a first step to clinching a deal for the 18-times English champions, offering to buy Liverpool's 237 million pound ($374.7 million) debt with RBS as part of a purchase deal for the club. Indian entrepreneur Ahasan Ali Syed has also reportedly launched a £300 million bid to takeover the former Premier League champions Blackburn Rovers.
On the sponsorship front, Thailand's Chang Beer have been Everton's main partner since 2004, while this season, the countries largest Brewery, Boon Rawd Co.Ltd, owners of the Singha Beer brand, are discussing a major sponsorship deal with Manchester United. The three-year, multi-million pound deal will allow the Thai beer and beverage producer to serve and sell Singha at Old Trafford as the exclusive lager at the ground and also to place the Singha logo on touchline advertising boards. Singha will also use the Manchester United FC emblem and logo and collaborate on football development projects.
Such deep-pocket power has inspired ever closer footballing ties between Asia and England, with top clubs touring Asian countries between seasons, as well as more interest and investment from the UK in developing the Asian leagues. The President of the Asian Football Confederation, Mohammed Bin Hamman is an avid supporter of the EPL. He believes Premier League teams add value to Asian football as well as reaping the rewards. "Coaching clinics, keynote speakers, Asian referee attachments in England and Premier League club tours all improve Asia's learning curve," he said.
A recent example of such bridge building saw Blackburn Rovers under 18s squad visit Thailand as part of a trade, education and sport exchange organised by the Thai Culture Forum UK. On arrival, Rovers enjoyed a police escort through Bangkok’s rush hour traffic to a press conference at the National stadium, with Academy boss Phil Cannon and midfielder Jamie MacLaren addressing the Thai press, dignitaries and sporting figures. The team then took part in a coaching session and played two matches, enjoying a 2-0 win over the Thai National Under18 team before touring the Thai capital. “The week has been fantastic," said Cannon. "The welcome we received from the Thai people has been second to none. It’s been a terrific experience.”
With Brian Robson currently coaching the Thai National team and several other major footballing figures including Sven Goran Eriksson and David Beckham reportedly owning luxury villas in Thai resort islands, the strong relationship between the English and Asian football worlds seems set to grow. For now at least, the only missing link is the lack of Asian players in the EPL.