January 31, 2014

2015 Asian Cup: Australian business opportunities

With the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup set to come to town in January 2015, it’s time to think about how Australian businesses can benefit from the influx of tourists and anticipated $225 million boost to the economy.

The biggest sporting event in the region has been flying under our radar for over 50 years. Now the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup is coming to Australia and that’ all set to change.

Over 23 days in January 2015, Asia’s top 16 teams will play a total of 32 matches in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Canberra and Newcastle. This is the first time the tournament is being held outside the Asian mainland and it will showcase the scale and richness of Asia’s football culture. It will also provide an unparalleled opportunity for Australian businesses to benefit from a huge influx of tourists and investment.

“More than 80 million people in Asia played football in 2006,” says Michael Brown, Chief Executive Officer of the AFC Asian Cup Australia 2015 Local Organising Committee (LOC). “It’s the most popular sport in the region and the AFC Asian Cup is the pinnacle for the 47 nations that take part.”

The AFC Asian Cup is the second oldest continental football championship in the world. The winning team becomes the champion of Asia and qualifies automatically for the FIFA Confederations Cup, which is seen as something of a dress rehearsal for the following year’s FIFA World Cup.

The tournament was held every four years from 1956 to 2004 but, as this was in sync with both the summer Olympic Games and the European Football Championships, the AFC decided to shift to a less competitive four-year cycle starting with 2007. Australia is the newest member of the AFC, having made the switch from the Oceania Group in 2006.

“We feel very privileged to have been granted the right to host the tournament and we’ll treat it with the respect it deserves,” says Brown.

Spending time in Australia

In Tokyo, the recent World Cup qualifier between Australia and Japan attracted 80,000 Blue Samurai fans. “I think this is a good indication of the size of the game and the passion it inspires,” says Brown. He’s expecting at least 45,000 visitors to make their way to Australia for the AFC Asian Cup and, if they each spend the estimated $5,000, they’ll provide an immediate $225 million boost to the economy.

“Of course, the longer they stay in Australia the more money they’ll spend here,” he adds. “Our goal is to create a value proposition which will convince them to come for an extended holiday rather than just to watch the matches. We want them to take this opportunity to see and enjoy the many attractions Australia has to offer.”

Brown’s team is working with Tourism Australia at a national level as well as local tourism agencies such as Tourism and Events Queensland, Destination NSW, Tourism Victoria and Australian Capital Tourism.

“We want to ensure that Australia’s tourism industry can reap as many benefits as possible, and not just while the tournament is in progress,” he says. “We want visitors to enjoy the experience enough to recommend Australia to their family and friends. And we want it to be obvious to people watching on television that Australians are friendly and welcoming hosts, and that this is a great place to visit for a holiday.”

Promoting trade and investment

While Australia has a long history of playing various sports in Asia this has generally been limited to specific areas – for example, cricket on the Indian subcontinent.

Membership of the AFC has opened the door to regular contact with virtually every country in Asia and the Middle East. This is creating significant opportunities for Australian businesses to strengthen established relationships and forge new ones.

“Seven of our top 10 trading partners including Japan, China and South Korea are either already confirmed participants in the AFC Asian Cup or likely to qualify,” says Brown. “Other spots are expected to be filled by Middle Eastern members of the AFC such as Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran.”

Many industry leaders in Australia and Asia already have close connections to sport through board appointments or team ownership. “It’s vitally important that we build on our existing business networking opportunities,” says Brown. “At the same time, we’re working closely with federal, state and local governments to create new ways for Australian businesses to forge links with their Asian counterparts.

We’re also encouraging business leaders to bring their own suggestions to the table. Our focus is on practical programs such as business matching, which enables export-ready businesses to meet carefully-matched potential customers, clients, suppliers, investors and partners with the aim of starting business negotiations right away.”

Sponsors provide revenue for sporting organisations and events at every level in exchange for a chance to promote their brand. With a predicted television reach of 2.5 billion people, it’s not surprising that the AFC Asian Cup has attracted sponsorship from some of the country’s biggest corporations including Emirates, Toshiba, Samsung, Toyota and Minolta. “It’s not often you have a chance to get your message across on television, press, radio and online to close to half of the world’s population,” says Brown.

He and his team are equally committed to helping much smaller businesses capitalise on the event. “Tourists, players and officials will all be shopping here, eating in restaurants, taking tours and visiting our many attractions, so we’re helping small business owners make the most of the opportunities,” he says.

“We’re talking to local councils and working with groups like the Australian Hotels Association NSW. They can see potential value in creating events to mark the occasion and are keen to spread the word to their members. We’d also love to see some of the smaller businesses in regional and country areas getting together to boost trade by helping their communities celebrate.”

A life in sport

Brown considers himself very fortunate to have worked in three major sports. During his four years as Chief Executive Officer of the Hawthorn Football Club, he took them from a revenue base of $11 million to $30 million and increased the number of employees from 20 to more than 60.

Then, as General Manager/Acting Chief Executive Officer of Cricket Australia, he spent almost 10 years controlling day-to-day cricket activities including all international and domestic cricket programming, security and anti-corruption issues.

“Working in different countries and with many international teams helped me understand the cultural differences that need to be addressed when you’re hosting an international event on this scale,” he says.

He’s particularly excited to be helping promote a world class event in a game he’s always loved. As he lived in England and Wales before moving to Australia at the age of nine, football was the first game he played.

One of the more unusual challenges of his job is that the sport he’s promoting is traditionally known by a completely different name. In the Northern Territory, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia, ‘football’ usually refers to Australian Rules Football (AFL). In the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales and Queensland it could mean either rugby league or rugby union. To avoid even more confusion, Australians used the term ‘soccer’ to differentiate the round ball game from all of these other codes. Then, as the game became more international, it was important to stay in line with our competitors.

Since 2005, football has been the game’s official name, though our national team still goes by the nickname of ‘the Socceroos’. Australia’s passion for the other codes may also have limited football’s popularity. “Football is the number one sport in so many parts of world that, when I speak overseas, people find it hard to believe we’re still working on making it number one in Australia,” says Brown. “But, with the success of the A-League and the Socceroos qualifying for the World Cup, we’ve been seeing some wonderful things happening in the game in this country.

The Football Federation of Australia (FFA) deserves credit for all of the great work it’s done and I believe that hosting the AFC Asian Cup will leverage that. It’s a chance to confirm our status as a footballing nation in the eyes of the world as well as lift the game in Australia.”

A national legacy

Brown hopes that hosting the AFC Asian Cup will bring long-term benefits including higher commercial revenues, improved football infrastructure and financial stability as well as greater participation and interest. “It’s all part of the evolution that FFA Chief Executive David Gallop calls ‘an awakening of the giant’,” he says.

“In Australia, we already have 1.7 million participants – more than all of other football codes combined. If that can translate into involvement at senior levels and national and international success, football will play an increasingly important role in our communities.”

Gallop has also described football as Australia’s most inclusive and accessible sport, bridging gender, age, linguistic, ethnic and religious divides. “I think it’s true that football inspires passion like no other game. I see that everywhere I go in the world,” says Brown.

More than 80 million people in Asia played football in 2006 and, by 2020, that number is expected to top 380 million. And, as Asia becomes increasingly middle class, more people will be able to watch the game.

The 2012 Federal Government White Paper Australia in the Asian Century predicts that professional football leagues will continue to develop and there’ll be a steady shift in professional football leadership to Asia, which will create opportunities for business as well as the sport itself.

“I believe that hosting the AFC Asian Cup will help to cement Australia’s place in the Asian economic community,” says Brown. “When I move on from this job I hope to leave an enduring legacy of more robust business and trade links and stronger diplomatic relations, as well better social outcomes for Australia as a whole.”

A world-class event

For 2015, the AFC Asia Cup Australia Local Area Committee has four clear areas of focus: delivering a worldclass event; driving tourism; promoting trade and investment; and fostering community engagement. “Hosting a competition of this size will strengthen our reputation for delivering major events,” says CEO Michael Brown.

“We have some amazing people and businesses in Australia with a great deal of experience in putting on a great show. On my team, I have people who worked on the London Olympic Games, Sydney Olympic Games, Melbourne Commonwealth Games, Delhi Commonwealth Games, FIFA World Cups, Rugby World Cups and other major events. I think we can all look forward to a very exciting few weeks.”

Brown is committed to making this an event for all Australians. “Our community engagement program has a strong multicultural focus,” he says. “Australia’s cultural diversity is one of our greatest strengths and is at the heart of who we are. More than two million Australians have an Asian heritage and it’s important to remember that, when Australia plays in the World Cup, it’s Asia we’re representing. So we’re visiting as many different communities as we can, talking to people about coming along, joining in and enjoying the football.”


This article was first published in Business View magazine (November 2013). For more interactivity download the iPad edition of Business View for free via our new app NAB Think.

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