The Annual Post Season Tour of Asia: Why It’s More Than a Publicity Stunt
Guest post by Matt from ChelseaFCBlog.com.
As the Premier League season draws to a close, one continent in particular comes to the fore as each of the Premier League’s major clubs set off on tours around the World.
Once an untapped goldmine of marketing opportunities, unimaginable shirt sales and a new playground of sponsorship deals for both players and clubs alike, nowadays a tour of the Far East is the minimum trade off for clubs that take on big money deals.
This year Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton, Stoke, Liverpool and Tottenham will all play matches across the continent racking up around 200,000 air miles between them. For the fans at home, the tours seem to be getting longer each year as the club travels greater distances than ever before. The biggest implications are that little time is given for the players to spend time with their families and rest their legs after a long Premier League season.
As a Chelsea blogger, this close season it will be our job to follow The Blues from Thailand to Australia and then the USA before they return to London.
These grievances of course are the most obvious, and probably most valid reasons for the English-based Chelsea fan to have a moan.
For a moment, however, let’s consider the Asian football supporter. Having worked closely with numerous Chelsea supporters’ groups over the course of the season, there’s a story of genuine passion, dedication and loyal support that is arguably unmatched. This, remember, is for a club that they may never see play at their home ground.
The influence of Asian support first grabbed my attention when two South Korean players were plying their trade in the Premier League. Park Ji Sung was at Manchester United whilst little known Lee Chung Yong was playing for Bolton Wanderers.
Though Man United against Bolton was just another Premier League fixture for many, South Korea came to a standstill. South Korea’s greatest player was coming up against the contender to his throne in Lee Chung Yong, who was (and still is to many) a relative unknown in the English game.
Over 1 million fans watched the game on Korean TV. That number would have filled Bolton’s Reebok Stadium over 36 times.
We began a feature on our blog that carries the aim of shining a spotlight on how fans around the world completely throw themselves into the world of supporting a Premier League club.
When I spoke to the head of Chelsea’s Singapore supporters’ club, I asked him about the matchday atmosphere at the bar where they gather.
“I have to be brutally honest, it’s not London. But many who have visited us are surprised of all the songs we know and sing before kick-off, “Blue is the Color, Zigga Zagga, Celery … We don’t have large numbers like Indonesia, but our cohesion together as a fan club is fantastic. When we won the Champions League in 2012, it was magical. Many fans cried tears of joy.”
This year, they were trying to get a permit to organise their own open-top bus tour of Singapore. Talk about celebrating in style.
In another conversation, this time with the Malaysian Chelsea supporters’ club, their founder told me they have a new blood type within their Chelsea fan club. They call it “blue blood”.
He went on to tell me about buying Shoot magazine every month when he was younger and pulling out the posters of Chelsea players to put up on his wall, an act of support instantly relatable to any homegrown football fan.
What quickly became glaringly obvious is that global support, particularly in Asia, means more than just sponsorships and revenue streams for clubs. Football fan culture has certainly not been lost in translation to the Far East.
This is why the tours are so important. Hundreds of thousands of fans get to see their idols in the flesh, something they could never have dreamed of just 10-15 years ago. Maintaining a genuine relationship with those fans will be a sound investment for every club that hopes to succeed in attracting a global audience.
Asia still has a long way to go in developing their own game, but what they give back to the modern English sport is undeniably positive and for them to be considered any less of a fan than the bloke who watches Super Sunday every week from his sofa in Clapham is frankly nonsense.
So expect a large and vocal crowd in Thailand for Chelsea’s first game of their global tour and know that the supporters who are lucky enough to make it to the game could well be enjoying a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Thanks to Matt from ChelseaFCBlog.com for writing this guest post.