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Football
Cashing in on the English Premier League
Show me the money: Asian investors target the smaller Premier league clubs in a bid to get a slice of the action.
Last Modified: 25 Sep 2011 12:33
Malaysian owner Tony Fernandes has big plans for the London minnows [GALLO/GETTY]

Manchester United might be top dogs across Asia in more ways than one, but smaller English Premier League clubs are working hard to get their own slice of the action.

Queens Park Rangers and Blackburn Rovers matched improved results on the field last week by making more inroads on the commercial side.

Malaysian-born Tony Fernandes has owned the premiership new boys for just one month, but is already talking about shifting the west London club from its tiny Loftus Road base to a new 45-thousand seat stadium.

And now customers who log-on to the busy website for Fernandes' budget airline are greeted with the words 'Air Asia: Official Partners of QPR' at the top of the home page.

Indian-controlled Blackburn have recruited Singapore-based TV pundit Shebby Singh to work for them as a talent scout, which is a clever move to encourage discussion in regional television studios about the unfashionable strugglers from Lancashire.

With Rovers setting up an academy in Pune, owners Venky's are sparing no expense to create a buzz across the region.

A recent TV commercial has gone viral on YouTube, showing Blackburn players, including David Dunn and Ryan Nelsen, standing solemnly in a dressing room huddle, before devouring plates of chicken.

"The taste that brings the English Premier League to India," purrs the voice-over.

"Blackburn Rovers, proudly owned by Venky's."

Exposure

"Smaller clubs offer significant opportunities and value for money for companies wishing to gain mass exposure."

Minh Loi
Marketing analyst

"Smaller clubs offer significant opportunities and value for money for companies wishing to gain mass exposure," said marketing and gaming analyst Minh Loi, an Australian who is based in Kuala Lumpur.

"As their stadium advertising rates and shirt deals are relatively inexpensive, there are always budget-conscious companies offering their marketing dollars."

But Manchester United remain the true trendsetters in terms of commercial activity with the kind of deals that the others can only dream of.

As the Red Devils delayed their one billion dollar flotation on the Singapore stock market because of economic volatility this week, they signed a lucrative snack sponsorship in neighbouring Malaysia with chip manufacturer, Mister Potato.

Images of Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs and Park Ji-Sung are now carried on Mister Potato packaging at a reported cost of three million dollars per year.

Aligning elite athletes only with products that assist high performance is obviously an out-dated practice.

"Now that Man United will be increasingly accountable to shareholders, they are mindful of exploring various new streams of revenue," Loi said.

"Although there's a tenuous link between the two, Man United want the revenue and the chip manufacturer wants player images to attract their impressionable youth target market. It's a win-win for both."

Mister Potato, which accounts for roughly one-third of Malaysia's snack food business, is exported to 80 countries.

Malaysian appeal

With the visit of three English teams in eight days in July, Malaysia is becoming an increasingly hot market.

Second-tier Cardiff City are also in Malaysian hands, while Genting Casinos and Resorts have entered into a two-year shirt sponsorship deal with Aston Villa.

And Prime Minister Najib Razak, facing imminent national elections, does not hide his personal passion for Manchester United, comfortably the country's most popular club.

This face on your chips - United lead the way in off-field commercial success [GALLO/GETTY]

Fernandes, who is also Principal of the Lotus Formula One team, had been a long-term supporter of West Ham United. 

But with the Hammers and QPR swapping divisions at the start of the season, the 47-year-old did not hesitate to change allegiances.

The R's now have Malaysian Airlines (MAS) on their home jersey while their away strip displays the AirAsia brand.

And he has aggressively used Twitter to suggest that games involving QPR be shown regularly in regional TV broadcasts.

He was not impressed that some Asian viewers were not able to watch 'live' coverage of last weekend's 3-0 win at Wolverhampton Wanderers because other matches were given priority.

"Because of Tony Fernandes, a small west London club is receiving a greater global presence and has an instant appeal and following in Southeast Asia," Loi said.

"At the same time the AirAsia/MAS/Tune Group can enjoy the synergistic benefits due to common business and football club ownership."

Fernandes' arrival has allowed QPR manager Neil Warnock to significantly bolster his squad with the August signings of former England internationals including Shaun Wright-Phillips, Luke Young and Joey Barton, while Blackburn have also recently added new players.

But what would happen if the new personnel failed to gel and either of these clubs were relegated this season?

"In the case of Blackburn, it's likely that Venky's would still like the credibility of being owners of a professional football club," Loi said.

"Being associated with Blackburn has done wonders for the public profiles of owners Balaji Rao and Venkatesh Rao and extended the trustworthiness of their chicken business. I don't think they would wish to be out of the limelight any time soon."

One disgruntled sports tycoon once joked: "The easiest way to make one million dollars out of a football club is to spend TEN million."

Even so, more and more takers are coming on board even if the prices are going up in line with players' phone number-like salaries.

Jason Dasey (www.jasondasey.com) is an Asia-based international sports broadcaster and host/executive producer of Kopi-O, a new football chat show for Singapore. Twitter: JasonDasey

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