ASIA IS EUROPE’S CASH COW
I WAS in my teens when Italian Soccer was shown in the mid-80s over TV3, Malaysia’s first private television station.
On the heels of Italy’s World Cup victory in 1982, Serie A enjoyed a new lease of life as it made a turnaround of fortunes after suffering the ignominy of a match-fixing scandal in 1980.
The league attracted football’s crème de la crème.
Michel Platini’s telepathic understanding with Zbigniew Boniek symbolised Juventus’ attacking prowess, while Diego Maradona’s mazy dribbling skills illuminated Napoli.
Fans danced to the samba beat as Socrates, Falcao, Zico, Cerezo and Junior brought the Brazilian flavour to Italy.
The Italians were no slouch either – Paolo Rossi, Giancarlo Antognoni, Gaetano Scirea and Marco Tardelli were classy footballers in their own right.
Sampdoria rose to prominence with the able assistance of Brits like Trevor Francis and Graeme Souness, who provided guidance to youngsters Gianluca Vialli and Roberto Mancini.
Italy was the place to be, even for the technically-challenged Englishman like Luther Blissett.
And due to the weekly exposure to Serie A, I vividly remember Bari featured two Englishmen - Paul Rideout and Gordon Cowans during that timeframe.
Cowans who was a vital cog behind Aston Villa’s European Cup victory in 1982, was a cultured left-footed playmaker, not exactly in the mould of the typical English hard-running and hard-tackling midfield terrier.
By the time Bari announced David Platt’s transfer from Aston Villa in 1995, Serie A no longer attracted the greatest talents.
They prefer La Liga or the English top-flight, rebranded as the Premiership in 1992.
Serie A does not have the audience share in terms of TV, as the bulk goes to England and the fans no longer fill the stadia.
It is therefore a surprise when Serie B side, Bari, announced that 50 percent of the club’s share are now owned by a Malaysian, Datuk Noordin Ahmad.
Although he has been in business for more than two decades, Noordin is an unknown entity as opposed to AirAsia tycoon and branding guru, Tan Sri Tony Fernandes.
It was not hard to understand the rationale behind Fernandes’ takeover of Queens Park Rangers (QPR).
He realises the Premiership offered a huge audience from Asia, estimated by a research by the Premier League to be 470 million followers, more than any other region in the world.
It was the best platform to promote his brand all at one go across all market segments in Singapore, Hong Kong, China and India.
AirAsia did their part for the national federation too. The FA of Malaysia (FAM) was a beneficiary of a paltry sum of RM1 million per annum from AirAsia when Khairy Jamaluddin was the deputy president of the body.
About the same time, Mohamed bin Hammam who presided over the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) from 2002 to 2011, claimed 61 percent of all football revenue generated in Asia went to the Premier League!
For the 2013-2016 time frame, the Premiership broadcasting deal in Asia was worth an estimated US$1,270 million, with Astro Holdings Berhad paying a reportedly US$200 million to bring the matches to the comforts of our homes.
From the purist’s point of view, Hammam was probably right in saying Europe was taking vast sums of money out of Asia without leaving a lasting legacy.
But football being a huge global broadcasting product that is subject to market forces, investors, marketeers and the moneymen think otherwise.
This begs the question – why not invest big-time in the local game?
Ideally a consortium of companies owned by Fernandes, Tan Sri Vincent Tan who owns Cardiff City, Belgian outfit KV Kotrijk and Bosnian club FK Sarajevo and Noordin could have given something back to Malaysian football and its audience.
TV statistics suggest it has a huge following as well.
But one of the biggest stumbling blocks for Malaysian football is the lack of professionalism at all levels.
The only individual who owns a team is Tengku Mahkota Johor, who has done wonders in marketing JDT as a brand and a winning outfit.
Despite promising to invest much as RM16 million for two season into the Kelantan side, Datuk Seri Dr Hasmiza Othman, known as Dr Vida, will testify that she has little authority in determining the course of the elite team, the back-up squad or the academy unless she owns the team, very much like the way JDT is run by Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim.
In short, Malaysian football is not business friendly enough to create a sustainable industry for potential investors. The group of individuals and politicians running Malaysian football are not professionals.
That is why Europe is cashing in!