European clubs yet to maximise Asian profits

European football clubs are heading to Asia in unprecedented numbers but experts are questioning how much success they are having in tapping the vast market. They say "in return for a tiring trip for the players, clubs aren’t getting much more than their appearance fee and some extra shirt sales. Turning popularity into profit is the next challenge, they say," AFP reported.

Harry Philp, managing director of London-based consultancy Inner Circle Sports, cited the example of Manchester United who are seeing little return from their estimated 40 million Asian fans. “Historically, the number of shirts that you sell and other revenue streams that you can generate from the business have been reasonably successful but in terms of the potential market it’s been relatively small,” he said.

Philp said clubs needed to look at new sources of revenue such as paid internet broadcasts of match footage. “They’ve got to look at ways to bring in club product, be it purely through merchandising sales or access to matches through new media,” said Philp. “It’s a question of getting to your target audience and finding out how you retain interest. It’s a challenge for the clubs: how do you retain interest and generate revenue?”

Promoter Terry Catton, who has brought Juventus, AC Milan and Newcastle to Hong Kong, said clubs normally receive a big fee – perhaps US$1 million – for Asian exhibition games plus travel and accommodation costs. They may also take some of the ticket proceeds and will use the trip to sell merchandise such as shirts and club membership.

Catton said he had never seen so many teams touring Asia, but warned that the smaller clubs would struggle to make an impression. “I think the big clubs will continue to dominate. It will be very difficult for the smaller clubs,” he said. “It’s the star appeal. All the fans in Asia really want to see the biggest clubs so it will be difficult for the secondary clubs to make a big impact.”

“It’s always an interesting question about signing Asian players whether they’ve been signed for their ability or marketing,” said Philp. I’m sure Ji-sung’s been signed purely on his football ability. The fact that he’s Korean and Korea is a major market they’re trying to develop certainly helps. “I think we’ll see more signings of Asian players as the standards continue to rise in Asian football.”