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Insights from Asia: Potential vs. Performance

The current narrative around Asian football is that of an exciting newcomer gathering momentum to challenge the more established European football market. Yet our analysis suggests that the gap between Asia and Europe in terms of footballing quality is actually growing, not shrinking – so what can be done to help Asian leagues fulfil their ambitions?

China are the headline case. Their ambition of becoming a “world football superpower” has been backed up by substantial investment in grassroots football, as well as high-profile investments in top, European talent and a number of European clubs.

Much is made of the potential for football to flourish in the region. The sheer number of people for whom football is a key interest excites both broadcasters looking to attract audiences and European clubs looking to grow their global fanbase and commercial worth. Much of the conversation is therefore centred on how this deep well of fans can be engaged, either through compelling content or through changing the way in which such content is consumed with the emergence of streaming services challenging the dominance of traditional linear broadcast models.

The reported $4bn investment by DDMC Fortis to acquire all of the AFC’s commercial rights between 2021 and 2028 implies that there is a strong belief in the value of the Asian football product and the presence of willing buyers to acquire the rights inventory.

There are clearly many reasons to be optimistic as interest in football continues to grow in the region, and the way in which football is consumed becomes increasingly tailored to the demands of the fans. There should be some concern, however, that the growth in interest has not been matched by improvements in the quality of many of the domestic leagues relative to Europe’s top leagues.

Our World Super League, which assesses the quality of teams globally based on a machine learning model to create a global league table, suggests that the gap in quality between some of the key Asian leagues and the world’s best leagues, such as the English Premier League, is actually growing. This has coincided with a substantial increase in the wealth of the Premier League, but is a surprising reality considering the narratives of an established, mature European market and a developing football market in growth mode.

This is also significant as European competitions such as the Premier League and The UEFA Champions League represent some of the biggest competition for the attention of Asian fans. To wrestle the interest of fans from the European to the domestic game, Asian football competitions require both a compelling local product and a compelling way in which to consume it.

For Asia to fulfil its potential as a footballing powerhouse, it will be critical to close the gap on the giants of Europe. Enhancing the structure of key competitions and enabling clubs within those leagues to increase the effectiveness of their football operations will be key to improving the local football product. Competitions that consistently create interesting matches between good teams is a consequence of an effective professional game. This is ultimately the main source of content to be consumed by local fans and will be the key to unlocking Asia’s potential. Getting the professional game right may just show the rest of the football world that Asian football is a force to be reckoned with.

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About Ben Marlow

Ben Marlow has created 38 entries.