World Cup qualification to kick Saudi clubs’ brands into big leagues

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Happy days have returned to Saudi Arabian football following the national team’s qualification for next year’s World Cup. The side made it to Russia thanks to a 1-0 victory over Japan last Tuesday. (Reuters)
Updated 14 September 2017
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World Cup qualification to kick Saudi clubs’ brands into big leagues

LONDON: When Fahad Al-Muwallad fired in the winner that saw Saudi Arabia beat Japan last Tuesday, he not only sent the Green Falcons to next year’s World Cup but also gave a huge boost to the potential brand value of local football clubs.
That’s the view of industry insiders who claim there is nothing like a World Cup campaign to get the public not just behind their team, but also more focused on football in general.
As part of the country’s Vision 2030 plan, whereby dependence on oil is set to be reduced and the economy diversified, government-owned football clubs are to be put up for sale with profits set to be spent on promoting social well-being and healthy lifestyles.
Given the planned privatizations, the timing of the win over Japan — which will see coach Bert van Marwijk’s men set to fly the flag for the country in Russia next summer — could not have come at a better time.
“The World Cup is the biggest tournament in sport and attracts an unrivaled level of interest. Strong performances by the Saudi Arabian team will trigger excitement domestically and perhaps more importantly internationally for football in the country,” Finn Dowley, sports analyst at the London-based business consultancy Brand Finance, told Arab News.
“Football club brands are reliant on strong on-field performance and individual player brands. The World Cup will thrust Saudi Arabia’s star players into the spotlight which will directly benefit the brands of the clubs they play for.”
The Saudi national team has long been one of the most successful in the Middle East and Asia. The Green Falcons have played in the World Cup finals four times and won the Asian Cup three times.
But amid the boom in sports finances and growth of football into a megabucks business, Saudi Arabia’s national team has been somewhat sidelined, having last qualified for the World Cup in 2006.
Local clubs already have strong and solid support, but given the increased exposure during the World Cup tournament in Russia, could now see a boost ahead of the privatization plans.
“It is important to remember that sports clubs in Saudi Arabia include a number of sports — not only the football teams — however, it is fair to say that in terms of core support and fan appeal the football teams are the key assets,” Steve Bainbridge, head of Al Tamimi & Company’s Sports and Events Management practice, told Arab News.
“Assuming there is significant interest from the private sector and robust bidding, and there are many reasons to believe this will indeed be the case, we can anticipate that the private-sector bidders, having performed rigorous due diligence, will feel confident they can increase brand values and commercialize the associated assets to increase and diversify revenues.”
The key to making a success of any privatized clubs is to increase commercial revenue, specifically through merchandise and sponsorship. And once again World Cup qualification is predicted to help any plans the new club owners and their commercial teams may have. The model the owners would seek to copy is likely to be, as you would expect, that used by the big European clubs such as Real Madrid, Manchester United and Bayern Munich.
“The primary revenue-driver (will be) brand value, which should be maintained, enhanced and leveraged through multiple channels including ticket revenues, merchandise sales, broadcast revenues and club sponsorship, etc.” Bainbridge said.
“Subsequent to a privatization, we can anticipate that new owners may bring private-sector expertise to support their strategic investment in and development of the assets.”
Dowley added: “The growth of Saudi football club brands will depend on levels of investment and quality of brand management. Savvy owners will look to industry and market specialists to develop their brands in order to maximize financial return.”


Graft-busting journalist returns to Malaysia

Updated 21 May 2018
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Graft-busting journalist returns to Malaysia

  • Her biggest bombshell may have been the 2015 revelation by her website Sarawak Report that nearly $700 million was funneled into the bank account of ex-premier Najib Razak
  • With Malaysia on a reform path, Rewcastle expects to wind down her anti-graft work

KUALA LUMPUR: Clare Rewcastle Brown was harassed and vilified for years for waging a quixotic campaign to expose Malaysian corruption that helped topple the country’s long-ruling regime.
The British investigative journalist is now back in the country of her birth after being blacklisted for years and being treated as a celebrity in a sign of the whirlwind changes since historic May 9 elections.
No one is more stunned than Rewcastle, who said she expects to see further startling revelations of corruption and misrule emerge as a reformist administration cleans house.
“There is so much that’s going to come tumbling out now,” she said during an interview in Kuala Lumpur.
“Everyone is gob-smacked as they see these things happening. There are going to be more amazing scenes to come.”
Rewcastle, now 58, has been a thorn in the side of Malaysia’s ruling elite for years, working from abroad to expose larceny and misrule centering mostly on the rainforested state of Sarawak where she was born and spent her early years.
But her biggest bombshell may have been the 2015 revelation by her website Sarawak Report that nearly $700 million was funneled into the bank account of ex-premier Najib Razak.
That helped super-charge allegations that Najib and his entourage plundered billions from sovereign wealth fund 1MDB, in a scandal that led to his electoral defeat, ending six decades under an increasingly corrupt government.
He is now under investigation and expected to be charged.
Rewcastle’s work over the years triggered Malaysian arrest warrants, lawsuits, threats, and a sustained campaign of online vilification that she suspects was orchestrated by Najib’s government using western PR firms.
The sister-in-law of former British prime minister Gordon Brown, Rewcastle was still recently being approached by shadowy characters offering pay-offs if she’d publish juicy “revelations” for them — ham-fisted attempts to entrap and discredit her, she says.
“Millions have gone into trying to destroy my reputation, which could have been spent on something useful,” she said. “But all they did was help make me famous, the stupid idiots.”
Never welcome, and officially barred from Malaysia in 2015, Rewcastle has gone almost overnight from persona non grata to welcome guest.
She met AFP following an interview with a state-aligned newspaper that formerly maligned her but gave her glowing front-page treatment on Monday.
She was halted repeatedly by ordinary Malaysians who recognized her distinctive ginger locks, stopping to thank her and snap selfies.
Many more have praised Rewcastle on social media after learning of her arrival. “It’s extremely gratifying,” she said.
Few foreigners were as feared by Malaysia’s government.
Born in Sarawak when it was a British crown colony, she spent several years there, often following her mother — a midwife for indigenous people — on jungle jaunts to remote clinics.
She later worked for the BBC and others in London in investigative journalism before devoting herself to publicizing Sarawak corruption, deforestation, and eviction of native peoples from traditional lands.
“I did this partly because I was mad, and partly because I thought there was a slim chance something could be done,” she said of the state which environmentalists believe has lost nearly all of its original rainforest.
In 2010, she started Sarawak Report and short-wave broadcaster Radio Free Sarawak — operated in secret from London, and later Bali, Brunei and Sarawak itself.
Rewcastle drew on a network of contacts in Malaysia to repeatedly expose the plundering of Sarawak. Najib’s regime eventually blocked the website — a move the new government has reversed — and radio signals were jammed.
With Malaysia on a reform path, Rewcastle expects to wind down her anti-graft work, which she said was a money-losing project reliant on financial backers she won’t name.
But she pledged to “do my darnedest” to continuing advocating for Sarawak.
That includes pushing for investigations into its former chief minister, Abdul Taib Mahmud.
The retired 82-year-old, who was loosely aligned with Najib’s regime, is accused by indigenous activists of ruling Sarawak like a family fiefdom for 33 years, plundering its timber and building ecologically harmful dams.
Sarawak Report, along with the Bruno Manser Fund, a Swiss NGO, has documented huge investments around the world by Taib’s circle.
“Taib needs to be taken by the ankles and shook, so the money falls out,” Rewcastle said.
“There’s still a lot to be done. But we’re in a terrific position now to really campaign for what this was originally about.”