Following the announcement of their landmark 15-year deal with the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM), Managing Director of MP & Silva Asia Pacific Beatrice Lee talks to FourFourTwo about the new partnership and how it will benefit the local football scene...
It is fair to say that not a lot of people in Malaysia are familiar with MP & Silva despite the agency’s global presence in the world of football. Perhaps you can enlighten them about your company.
MP & Silva is the world’s leading sport marketing agency with 18 offices around the world and two headquarters; one in Singapore for the Asia Pacific region, and another in London. We mainly work on media rights and distributions with international federations, sports bodies, and professional football leagues such as the English Premier League, Serie A and so on. We have also worked with FIFA for the 2014 World Cup in certain territories. Our biggest role in Asia so far is arguably as the advisor to the Olympic Council of Asia for all events under their umbrella.
Regarding your partnership with the FAM, how does it actually work?
We are basically the FAM’s global media and commercial advisor, which is perhaps a role that people in this part of the world are not familiar with. The FAM will still be in control of everything, while we will advise them on the best media distributions that can maximise the league’s exposure and revenue. For example, if we do a deal with Astro, Astro will pay the FAM, not us. Besides that, our job is to get sponsorship deals for the M-League and the FAM, so that we can invest the money into Malaysia football.
The agreement in place is for the next 15 years, starting from 2016. Isn’t it a bit too long?
For us, every project that we invest in is strategic. As our investment in the M-League is huge, it only works if we do it over a long term, so that we will have time to build the partnership with the FAM and develop the game in Malaysia, which in turn will eventually raise the quality and value of the league itself. If it was only for three years, for instance, it would not work out.
When the deal was first announced, some fans were concerned about it due to what happened between MP & Silva and the professional baseball league in Taiwan. So, what actually did happen?
We had an agreement, which was similar to what we’re currently having with the FAM, with the Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL), but unfortunately, they were not committed to being a partner with us. I cannot go into details about what happened due to confidentiality, but we did try everything we could to save the relationship and the deal because it was a long-term partnership and [cancelling it] would affect us commercially. After trying our best, we had no choice but to terminate the deal. [In any case] we have worked with over 80 federations and managed over 200 broadcast rights of different events. The issue with the CPBL was the only case that unfortunately did not work out in the last eight years of the company.
Could a similar scenario happen with the M-League?
We have a clear communication with the FAM from the start and we believe that this partnership has a different dynamic. We have had discussions regarding their vision and direction, and we could see that their intention to develop football in Malaysia is genuine. So, we believe that this partnership will work.
Astro was the main broadcaster in Malaysia before M&P Silva came along. Now that the agency has taken full control of the M-League’s media rights, what will happen?
We can work with Astro, TM, RTM, Media Prima or everyone together because our best interest is to maximise the exposure of the league. We have not taken away the rights from any broadcaster or sponsor; we have actually come in as a neutral.
With this deal, does this mean that the M-League might be broadcast in other countries?
Yes, we will definitely explore that option. The domestic market is huge and takes a huge chunk of the pie, but we also hope to give the M-League some exposure outside the country, especially with it being one of the most advanced leagues in the Southeast Asia region. I’m sure that there are people outside Malaysia following the league, so we will try to bring it out to them. Besides that, we work with over 300 broadcasters globally, so we believe our connection with those broadcasters can help us make it happen.
As the media rights holder of the M-League, how is MP & Silva planning to tackle illegal match streaming?
It is difficult to take down those illegal websites because they will always be there, but we can [take them head-on] if we can offer the fans an official site that provides better quality, so we have planned a digital strategy for the FAM to consider. We think it is important to have a really good digital offering for the M-League fans because if we just look at the Super League, there are six matches per gameweek, but not all matches are being broadcast or shown due to limited resources and capacity. We believe we need to service the fans of every club involved, not just the big clubs.
Have you personally caught some of the M-League action?
Yes. We are based in Singapore, so I have gone to the Jalan Besar Stadium to catch some of the matches. I support Selangor, by the way, as I was born there. [laughs] Hopefully they will do well this season.
(Picture: Football Association of Malaysia)