Malaysian stakeholders focussed by FIFA program

Malaysian football stakeholders were given the opportunity to raise criticism and suggestions at a lively three-day workshop at the PJ Hilton in Kuala Lumpur between 9-11 November, organised by the Football Association of Malaysia. The major theme was to relaunch Malaysian football so that it can compete for the attention of Malaysian fans with the far more popular English Premier League broadcasts, tours and merchandise.

"With the exception of Perak, Perlis, and Pahang who have been consistently able to command big turnouts, the remaining States in the Malaysian Super League and the Premier League have been playing to virtually empty stadiums," reminded the New Straits Times' Lazarus Rokk.

The platform for the talks was the Com-Unity program (see PDF) developed by the world football body, FIFA, for building cooperation within the football 'family' and with the broader community. A Com-Unity workshop was held in Cambodia last year and recently in Sri Lanka and Vietnam.

The FIFA delegation was headed by Jurg Nepter and included David Borja FIFA development manager Asia and Oceania, John Windsor FIFA development officer, marketing instructor Winston Lee and communication instructors Les Dickens and Mark Gleeson. President bin Hammam and other leaders and executives of the Asian Football Confederation were also heavily involved. (Pictured from left FAM's Tengku Abdullah and AFC president, Mohamed bin Hammam).

Of the more than 120 registered participants, media and Government officials and national sports officials were well represented but only nine of the important state football associations turned up (and, in most cases, were not represented by their decision-makers).

At the opening ceremony, FAM deputy president, Tengku Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, focussed attention on football's failure, as the country's number one sport, to effectively market itself. “National and State football bodies ought to learn how to market their products instead of waiting for sponsors,” he said.

Day One of the workshop was concerned with Relationship Management. "We need to look at improving relations between the different football partners as communication will allow them to realise the same objective. This will encompass social, economic as well as educational matters," FIFA's Jurg Nepter said. One problem in football management is the FAM-state FA relationship, particularly concerning the funding of local development. (Pictured from left: FAM deputy president Tengku Abdullah with FIFA's Jurg Nepter)

Day Two was concerned with Communications and media professionals took the opportunity to review a system in which, one noted, “nothing much has changed in the past 20 years.”

FIFA media instructors Gleeson and Dickens said it was imperative for FAM to employ a communication officer. Football pundit Serbegeth (Shebby) Singh called on FAM to make Malaysian football records accessable. “FAM are custodian of statistics and immense footage and all this history should be made available on the Internet. If one wants to know the starting line-ups from the 1978 Malaysia Cup final, the data would be available quickly. Accessibility is the greatest tool for marketing a product,” he said.

Topics discussed ranged from professionalism, the lack of Chinese players in the Malaysian game to media facilities at stadiums but FAM general secretary Datuk Seri Dr Ibrahim Saad's candidness about the state of the FAM and the State associations was a highlight.

"FIFA is living in the modern age, FAM is in the stone age while the State FAs are in the dark age. That is how we can describe Malaysian football currently," he said.

According to Vijesh Rai, it was pointed out to football officials that while the media is there to support football, the responsibility of developing and managing the sport lies in the hands of FAM and the State FAs. The Malaysian Super League and Premier League had to be planned with minimal postponements to fixtures to ensure maximum fan support. A successful national team was also the benchmark if football is to continue attracting huge crowds and blaming extensive media coverage of the English Premier League and other international competitions "is not the answer for dwindling gates".

Ibrahim agreed, saying "I agree that we cannot blame coverage of the EPL and other tournaments as the reason for football's troubles." And, at the end of the day, he accepted 11 resolutions including an SMS service to provide results, discussions with broadcasters RTM and TV3 to make available matches of yesteryear when Malaysia was a force in Asian football and a beefed-up FAM media department.

Day Three focussed on Marketing and the need, as AFC's marketing director, Clare Kenny, emphasised, to achieve professionalism, transparent and trusting partnerships, open communication and client servicing.

AirAsia Group Chief Executive Officer, Datuk Tony Fernandes, told the workshop that his company was not sponsoring Malaysian football because he had only ever received verbal queries. AirAsia has an international sponsorship deal with Manchester United believed to cost about RM 14 million.

"Neither FAM nor any of the State FAs have formally forwarded a proposal to us,” he said. “How can we sponsor anyone without any proposals? Of course, we are keen on associating ourselves with Malaysian soccer, but we have to look at the proposals first ... Sponsorship these days is a business deal between parties, for the mutual benefit of all concerned,” he said.

FAM appeared serious about implementing all undertakings reached in the workshops and will have a "watchdog", FIFA Goal Project development officer Windsor John Paul, looking over to ensure it does just that. Tengku Abdullah, who closed the final session, welcomed Paul’s role in ensuring that the three-day seminar "isn’t reduced to just talk".

Tengku Abdullah agreed that the seminar was an eye-opener.

"In Malaysia, the marketing and merchandising of football is not taken very seriously as football is always about the national team. We have to change this concept as football is a huge industry and the fact that FIFA spends US$ 100 million a year on development programmes indicates how important it is for us to develop the game further in Malaysia. We have done reasonably well but our eyes have been opened and we, and I mean all levels of football, must work together towards this."

Among the key proposals that FAM has to implement are appointing a technical director, a full-time marketing manager (within six months), a national level media officer and state level media officers. FAM must also create an annual sponsorship activation programme, starting next month, and they must propose to the State FAs that they appoint marketing officers as well.

A joint consultative committee, to be chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, will also soon be formed. Other members of the committee will include the relevant ministers, FAM officials and individuals.

"I have discussed it with the DPM and he has agreed that a joint consultative committee be formed,Tengku Abdullah said, adding that implementation is a problem.

"Implementation has been our biggest problem. We have a structure similar to FIFA, the world governing body. But every time we implement a programme, it does not work. We need the input of the consultative committee because FAM simply can't do it alone. It's very straight forward actually. We need everyone to chip in to make sure there is improvement in the local football scene. The specifics of the consultative committee will be known once we have our first meeting,” he said.

He also pointed out that the prevailing financial structure whereby by FAM distributes RM 8.5 million annually from sponsor Telekom Melaka is not practical and the state FAs must look at being financially independent.

“I believe that we need to look at three optional years in qualifying for the World Cup – in 2014, 2018 and 2022,” he added. “But in order for that target to be achieved, we need to do a lot of work and improve on areas of responsibility where obviously we will also need the help of the government. We are not talking about achieving FAM’s target but rather of the country and as such, everybody has to chip where it should be a national agenda and mission. Let’s share the dream together.”

See also: Malaysia to upgrade admin and player skills (28 Oct)