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Sports Matters Q&A: FourFourTwo’s Andy Jackson tackles Asian football

2014-Sports-Matters_Andy-Jackson_615x400 ANDY JACKSON, FourFourTwo’s Brand Director (Asia), talks about the many issues affecting Asian football, in the first of a series of interviews with speakers at the upcoming Sports Matters in Singapore from September 17-18.

 

For more information on Sports Matters, visit: sportsmatters.asia or email elsa@branded.asia

 

Interview by SportAsia

 

Darren Bailey, the English FA’s Director of Football Governance and Regulation, will speak at Sports Matters about preserving the integrity of English football. What’s threatening the integrity of the game there and why is this relevant to the rest of the world and Asia?

I think the challenges the English game faces are the challenges the game faces in other areas of the world with regards to match fixing. It’s a global problem, often with global networks at its heart, and therefore has relevance worldwide and also beyond just football and into other sports.

 

What are you most looking forward to at Sports Matters?

Meeting Darren Bailey again! The last time I saw him was on a football pitch 24 years ago, so it will be good to finally catch up again. Last year I took something away from all of the sessions, so I’m looking forward to doing the same this year and also to meeting other people outside my everyday network.

 

What do you think are the most worrying factors threatening the growth of football in Asia?

The financial disparity between clubs, competitions and nations is growing and this is having a flow down effect in Asia. In Australia, the market I have most experience in (12 years), a crowd of 85,000 people will turn up to watch Manchester United play a friendly in a city where the local A-League teams average around 15,000 per game.

 

It’s a pointless exercise trying to compete with the EPL or Champions League, so the challenge is how to use this enormous interest and audience as a platform to promote the local game in tandem. One major concern is the revenues that could flow down to the local game in the form of broadcast and sponsorship revenues are being swallowed by the likes of the EPL and the clubs setting up commercial arms in Asia.

 

Does Asian football fans’ love of the Premier League, La Liga and other top European leagues affect interest and attendance at domestic leagues?

Undoubtedly, the amount of money and time a consumer has for leisure activities is finite and therefore if time and money is being committed to the big European leagues, then that in turn means there will be less of both for the local game.

 

Football fans aren’t stupid. They can watch the best leagues and the best players in the world from the comfort of their own armchair, so local leagues have to find another angle in which to compete for the hearts and minds of the local fan.

 

Adding to this is the fact that the most talented local players are generally on the next plane to Europe at the first opportunity. It creates a significant problem. This is where local leagues and clubs have to build an engagement strategy that best fits their local context. The J.League has shown that it’s possible to build a strong and sustainable local competition, while having your best players performing at the top level in Europe.

 

At Sports Matters, a panel involving representatives from Barcelona and Chelsea will tackle the theme: Do travelling exhibition games present a sustainable future and what is being done to develop the football business at a local level? What are your thoughts on this topic and why is it a relevant talking point?

Given that I can’t see a future where these clubs will play competitive fixtures in Asia, the next best thing is exhibition or pre-season tournaments and certainly that’s better than them not coming here at all.

 

At the heart of any football fan’s relationship with their club is seeing them play in person and many clubs seem to have grasped that. I think it’s important that there’s a whole range of activities beyond just the game, which some people may not be able to afford to attend. In my experience, the most successful tours are when the club commits to a range of fan-focused activities to reach as broad a group of people as possible.

 

When you see a club turn up with the barriers up and the only time you see them is on the pitch for the 90 minutes of the match, I feel this is a bit short-sighted, as they’ve only tapped into one avenue of value these trips can bring.

 

Given these trips are so few and far between, it’s important clubs make the most of them when they come. In some instances the coach may want to strictly control the amount of commercial or community activities of the squad, which is understandable. However, there are ways around this, such as having a group of recently retired players or club legends who travel with the squad and take on some of the commercial and community activities to ensure as many fans as possible get a personal experience with the club.

 

On this note, more and more top European clubs are visiting USA – not Asia – in the summer. Do you see a general shift in focus here and will North America prove more attractive than Asia for pre-season travel?

It’s too early to say whether it’s a permanent trend yet. The USA always seems to attract more clubs in a World Cup/Euros year due to the shorter travel times and the more straightforward logistical opportunity the country offers.

 

In 2013 we saw just as many high-profile clubs come to Asia and I’d suggest we’ll see similar in 2015 in the off-year from major tournaments. That said, the football culture and size of the football audience in the USA keeps growing. As the scale of the opportunity for the major clubs to build fan bases and in turn commercial revenues in the US market develops, so too will the regularity of the visits. There’s also the increase in US ownership of Premier League clubs, which will in turn increase the number of clubs heading west not east for pre-season.

 

What are your thoughts on the AFC Champions League and where it can still improve and learn from its UEFA counterpart, if possible?

I think the only real learning is that it’s easier to run a tournament of this nature across an area the size of Europe than the size of the AFC catchment area, which spreads from Australia up to China, Korea and Japan, and across to the Middle East and Central Asia. The sheer geography means it’s difficult for travelling fans to follow their team and in some instances even watch at a reasonable hour. There’s no showpiece final, with the final being played over two legs for that very reason of geography.

 

Personally I think the AFC needs to do something to differentiate their Champions League offering, rather than imitating the UEFA one. I’ve previously suggested the idea of the latter stages being held together as a knockout tournament over a 10-14 day period to create a sense of occasion and true knockout feeling – with maybe the quarter-finals, semis and final all held in one city.

 

Currently the tournament is too spread out both geographically and chronologically, so you end up with a final with largely only the fans of the two sides involved still engaged by that point.

 

Asian teams had a disappointing World Cup after encouraging results in 2002 and 2010. What do you think are the reasons for this and is there cause for concern?

No question the results were a disappointment, but disappointing World Cup performances were not limited to Asian nations. There were a couple of previous winners asking themselves just as many questions – England and Italy, please step forward!

 

I felt the World Cup came at a difficult period for the Asian nations, with the likes of Australia in an obvious period of transition with a new coach and a very inexperienced squad. In that context there was much to be positive about in Australia’s performances in what was an incredibly tough group.

 

From what you’ve seen in your time in Asia, which are the leading national teams and who do you think are the most likely challengers to Japan at January’s Asian Cup?

Japan will unquestionably be the team to beat, but I think Australia with home advantage will be contenders and Iran, South Korea and Uzbekistan decent outside bets.

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