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AFC Boss: Asian Soccer Must Commercialize
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Asian football leagues must learn to transform themselves into business entities and market themselves and their clubs in the way Europe does.

That's the message from Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president Mohammed bin Hammam, who believes sponsors are out there with buckets of money but want to see a successful business model that can be mutually beneficial.

"We need to commercialize the football business in some of the countries ... including India, China, and Iran among others," he told AFP.

"We need to see that the clubs are transformed into business entities and that we create leagues that take care of the collective financial interest and commercial interest of the clubs in each country.

"Asian leagues need to leave the football administration to the football associations, and focus on the commercialization of the national leagues through the respective league bodies that work under the football association's states.

"It is only with this level of focus that success commercially will be achieved."

Along with FIFA president Sepp Blatter, bin Hammam will be the key guest at the annual Soccerex conference in Dubai this weekend, where the game's movers and shakers meet to discuss issues like sponsorship strategies and new revenue streams.

In Europe, clubs like Real Madrid and Manchester United have been transformed into successful businesses that turn multi-million dollar profits annually, cashing in on lucrative TV rights, merchandising and ticket sales.

Even smaller clubs have learned that, to stay afloat, a top notch business manager is as crucial to their survival as a top notch player.

Similar successes can be achieved in Asia if the right mentality is there, said bin Hammam, who has the tough task of stamping regional football on the global map.

"The money is there, the sponsors are there," he said. "But historically the sponsorships have been treated like donations, and not business partnerships. This mindset needs to change.

"The clubs are running after sponsors to give them money, the leagues are running after money. But it is only through developing business relationships that are mutually beneficial that we will see more revenue coming into the clubs.

"Of course we believe that football can provide the right platform for sponsors to talk directly to their consumers. This is proven. But there has to be mutual interest."

It is only with sponsors on board that Asian leagues, many of which are struggling, can grow and attract the type of player people want to watch, said the football supremo.

He points to the AFC, which has doubled the number of countries Asian football is broadcast to in recent years, as an example to follow.

"We have extensive commercial and communications programs to improve our image and at AFC we lead from the front by setting the example of having a commercial professional platform," he said.

"We are going to create a platform for talented players in Asia and around the world to work in Asia as professional players. And this needn't be a long-term objective."

(China Daily November 24, 2006)

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