Monday, April 29, 2019


Involvement In Asia Needs More Than Branded Academies

There is currently going on in Malaysia, World Football Summit, one of those grandly sounding conferences where people mostly in suits gather round and give or listen to presentations from other people in suits where they waffle on about topics such as fan engagement, brand building and the building of branded academies which, some big clubs will have us believe, will help foster the development of local football. 

Writing from an Indonesian perspective waffle is the correct, if not very business school speak, word. Academies have sprung up over the years with much hype and the presence of one or two VIPs jetted in from mother ship to smile at the launch and shake hands before quietly falling off the radar as clubs realise merely their name alone isn't enough to generate the returns they are seeking.

For a start the big clubs aren't interesting in developing local football despite their flowery words. Their priority lies in developing their brand and using the host country to provide a revenue stream that can be funnelled back home. 

Hence they charge high start up costs and franchise fees which don't take into account the reality on the ground. These charges ensure only a limited number of people would have any interest in getting involved given the deep pockets they need just to start the ball rolling and let's be honest here, not every business person becomes rich by following rules, do they?

Once a franchise is agreed and has paid their money it is now they who are looking to covering their costs and not just their costs but the fees to the club back in Europe so they then pass on these large fees to the customer so, by don't of the business model adopted by the club, their target audience is already much reduced even before any cones are set out on a playing field.

These strict financial demands mean the academy is immediately looking to keep costs to a minimum and one way they do this is in their overheads which means of course key infrastructure of an academy like pitches and coaches are secured on the cheap.

So, we end up with a piss poor product for which parents will be expected to pay over the odds.

And who's going to buy this product? Again, given the prices involved it's going to be the parents of sons and daughters with enough disposable income to afford the high fees. Parents who, for example, use Apple phones, drive Mercedes and go on shopping trips to Singapore not because they need them, a Jakarta traffic jam is the same nightmare whether you are on a bus or in a Merc, but because they see them as explicit displays of their 'perceived' status.

For them, little Johnny playing at an EPL branded academy is just one more boast in their arsenal of braggadocio. Yes, Johnny can run around, even get his knees but don't ever be under the illusion they will ever be a footballer. Oh no, rather like Nigel in the XTC classic, their future is already mapped out for them and includes university studying business and medicine, not the advantages of zonal marking when playing 10 men.

High costs, poorly paid staff, brand-happy rich kids doesn't really add up to a successful product does it but by the time the western club realises this it's too late.

If any big club is genuinely interested in developing football in Asia they need to re-examine their relationship with Asia and move beyond the arms outstretched with begging bowl approach. There are thousands of academies active in villages across Indonesia (known locally as SSBs) and that is where the future stars will come from, not the sons and daughters of well off doctors and bankers.

Do some homework, get out into the villages, get your knees dirty and work with them. Take coaches to your own training ground, and yes pay for it yourself, even organise a village/district competition where the winner is taken to your own training ground. Offer incentives to people, don't just jet in big names in business class and expect your local partner to foot the bill.

Make the partnership a real partnership with a two way relationship rather than just looking to make a quick buck. Until these western clubs change the way they see Asia then there is the likelihood Asia will eventually see their involvement for what it really is and turn away.

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