Indonesia’s Bali United this week became the first football club in Southeast Asia to list on the stock market, in a move that officials and fans hope could be a step towards expanding a league that has been dogged by allegations of corruption.
Football is hugely popular in Indonesia but, while some local clubs have large fan bases, the country’s leagues have been tarnished by match-fixing claims as well as violence between rival supporters.
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Star players from Bali United, currently in second place in the top flight Liga 1, attended Monday’s share debut on the Indonesia Stock Exchange, which raised 350 billion rupiahs ($24m) and saw the stock jump nearly 70 percent above its initial listing price.
“We hope that this IPO [initial public offering] will increase the overall transparency between investors, management and the fans, who will now have a chance to own shares,” said the club’s chief executive, Yabes Tanuri, according to Reuters.
Bali United supporters snapped up nearly a third of the shares, primarily in small holdings, according to the listing’s underwriter, Kresnas Securitas.
For many, it was the first time they had owned shares and some hoped it could at least help in the fight against corruption in the game.
“With the IPO, we the supporters will know information like how players are exchanged and what prices are paid for them,” said Bali United fan Adi Wijaya.
“If all the soccer clubs professionalise like Bali then they can be kept in check by investors and OJK [the financial regulator].”
Indonesian football’s governing body (PSSI) is currently embroiled in a match-fixing scandal, with police investigating some executives for allegedly offering bribes to coaches.
The Southeast Asian country was also barred from international football in 2015 due to government meddling in their domestic league, shutting them out of qualification for the 2018 World Cup and 2019 Asian Cup. The ban was lifted in 2016.
Bali United’s top shareholder and executives said they see the share sale as a way of tapping the potential for growth in a country of more than 260 million people, as well as increasing transparency and opening a path for other clubs to list.
“The Indonesian soccer industry needs to move forward,” said the team’s majority shareholder, Pieter Tanuri, who pointed to broader reforms taking place in the game in Indonesia.
He said the club had decided to list after Indonesian President Joko Widodo issued a government decree in March calling for further development of the game.
The Bali-based club, which ended the 2018 season in 11th place in Indonesia’s 18-team Liga 1, is expected to be followed onto the stock exchange by Persija Jakarta, which topped the league last year.
Thailand’s Buriram United, one of the region’s largest clubs, has also announced plans to list in 2019.
The only club previously to have listed in Asia is China’s Evergrande Taobao back in 2015.
Bali United players told Reuters they were confident the financial changes would be positive.
“This [IPO] is good for the club and good for football in Indonesia,” said the club’s star, Montenegrin–born striker Ilija Spasojevic.