Al Saud: Asian football must work harder

DOHA, Jan 9 (Reuters) - While global investors clamour for a piece of Asia's economic growth, Asian investors themselves prefer to pour their money into European, and especially English, football clubs, a business conference heard on Sunday.

If Asian sport was to grow, it had to do more to attract investment at home, Prince Turki bin Khalid Al Saud, former director general of the Saudi national team, said at a sports business investment conference as the Asian Cup football tournament continued.

"In Europe, investors are scrambling for Asia, but Asian investors are going to Europe for football.

"Global investors are now focused on the Asian market. And Asian companies are spreading their wings around the world, competing for market share.

"What is happening for Sony, Samsung - why don't we see that happening with Asian football?" Saud said.

Numerous blue-chip Asian companies have purchased and signed sponsorship deals with European clubs in recent years.

In November, Indian poultry giant Venky's bought Blackburn Rovers, making it the first Indian company to own a Premier League club, in a deal worth 54 million pounds.

Manchester City became wholly owned by Arab billionaire Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, after he had bought the remaining 10 percent of the shares of the Premier League club in 2009, and are now regarded as the richest football club in the world.

Dubai government-owned airline Emirates, the Arab world's largest airline, signed the biggest club sponsorship in English football with Arsenal in 2004.

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Asian companies invested in European football clubs primarily to burnish their image, Saud said.

"These investments are more for public relations purposes that purely commercially motivated. They do it to be among an elite club.

"They want to link their names with successful European teams. It's more image-polishing than an investment game."

Asian teams could not currently compete on an international level to attract global investors, Saud said.

"We need a little bit of time to compete with (Europe), and that requires a clear vision and that we make football more professional. They have to improve their image to attract investors. This will require time, effort and good people to execute."

"The population is growing in Asia, and purchasing power is stronger there. Asia ranks number one in terms of number of viewers and merchandise sales.

"The largest market is Asia. To attract investors, Asia has to attract the best talent - best players, coaches, referees, facilities."

He cited Qatar's victory in winning the right to host the 2022 World Cup as an example for other Asian nations to follow.

"For investment, there would seem to be many weaknesses in Qatar, such as its small size and population. But they had a clear vision.

"Now, investment in Qatar and spending in Qatar will be huge. Other Asian countries can also overcome these obstacles as well."


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