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IN recent years, scores of football clubs from Europe have ventured outside their continent and made huge inroads into South-east Asia, a region they deem chock-full of lucrative opportunities to grow their brand and fan base.
Specifically, many of them have picked Singapore as their preferred hub to spread their wings in this part of the world.
Some of the top European teams such as Manchester City (England) and Borussia Dortmund (Germany) have already opened offices here, while Spain's La Liga launched a regional hub office in Singapore earlier this year as part of its efforts to grow the league's popularity abroad.
Italian club Juventus made history as the first overseas club to play a football match at the 55,000-seater National Stadium in Kallang when it re-opened in 2014.
In the eyes of Patrick Murphy, the president and chairman of global sports marketing business Catalyst Media Group, it is easy to understand why so many teams, especially the big boys, are eager to stamp their mark in South-east Asia.
"Whether it's the Uefa Champions League, Europa League, the English Premier League, La Liga, the Bundesliga (in Germany), all these entities derive quite a large amount of their revenue from the Asian and South-east Asian markets," he told The Business Times in a recent interview.
"The clubs understand that a lot of their income and a large percentage of their fans come from the region. The clubs' sponsors also sell a huge amount of their products in Asia, so the clubs will be encouraged to come and play here as often as possible," he added.
Hong Kong-based Catalyst was in the news earlier this year when it was announced that Singapore would be the exclusive South-east Asian stop for the prestigious International Champions Cup (ICC) tournament, that starts on July 25.
Catalyst is the exclusive developer of the ICC in the Asia-Pacific region, and its Singapore representative office is located at Suntec City.
The ICC was started in 2013 by Relevent Sports, a New York-based company founded by American billionaire real estate magnate Stephen Ross and former New York Jets executive Matt Higgins.
The annual tournament began in Spain and different cities across the United States, and has since expanded to Canada, Australia, Mexico, Italy, Ireland, England, Sweden, China, and now, Singapore.
This year's Singapore leg features three of European football's most famous and successful clubs - reigning English Premier League (EPL) champions Chelsea, 27-time German Bundesliga winners Bayern Munich and 18-time Italian Serie A champions Inter Milan.
They will compete in a round-robin format at the National Stadium, which is the crown jewel of the S$1.3-billion Singapore Sports Hub complex.
When it came to making a decision to bring the world's top pre-season football tournaments to this part of the world, the bigwigs at Catalyst were unanimous that the event had to be staged in Singapore.
After months of negotiations with its local partners, including the Singapore Tourism Board and national sports agency Sport Singapore, it was announced in March that the Lion City would be the designated South-east Asia host of the ICC from 2017 to 2020.
Mr Murphy spoke of how it was an easy choice to make when picking Singapore for the ICC's next phase of expansion.
"I've worked in sports promotion for more than 20 years across the region, including in Singapore, and it was always very obvious to us that if we were to stage a world-class football tournament in South-east Asia, Singapore is the only country that we would consider at this time," he pointed out.
He cited a number of factors that worked in Singapore's favour. First, there is a ready venue in the National Stadium, which has hosted the likes of the Argentina, Brazil and Japan national teams, and EPL teams Arsenal, Everton and Stoke City.
Mr Murphy described the ICC as a tournament that targets fans from all over the region, so it was crucial to find a base that is used to accommodating large numbers of tourists on a regular basis. "Crucially, the government support is there and this has made it very easy for us to operate here. Everything is joined up extremely well between the different stakeholders, and things all happen in a very seamless fashion. This wouldn't be the case in most of the other countries around Singapore," he noted.
Mr Murphy has spent the last 20-plus years working in sports media and marketing, having started his career with ITV in the UK followed by an eight-year stint at News Corporation (now called 21st Century Fox) in Asia.
He then went on to be a managing director at Team Marketing in Europe, responsible for selling media and sponsorship rights for European football governing body Uefa's Champions League and Europa League tournaments.
Asked about the decision to stage the ICC in Singapore for four consecutive years, Mr Murphy replied that it was part of a longer-term plan to develop the competition's presence here and grow the rapport with the fans. "There isn't really much point in bringing something in for just a year and then leaving. If we're going to build this brand and have a strong relationship with the fans in Singapore and the region, we need time to do that, and four years gives us that ideal runway," he explained.
Among the other big European teams playing at other ICC venues in the US and China this year are Manchester United, Barcelona, Real Madrid and AC Milan, and the expectations are high that some or even all of them could play in Singapore in the next three years.
ICC matches featuring the heavyweights of the sport have typically seen packed houses at the stadiums. In 2014, a match between Manchester United and Real Madrid at Detroit's Michigan Stadium set the all-time attendance record for a football game in the US with 109,318 spectators.
"I think, over the course of the four years in Singapore, the fans will get to watch the entire spectrum of clubs that are involved in the ICC, and we do want to bring different teams here every year. The best part is they will all be playing against one another. It's like bringing the Champions League right to Singapore's doorstep," Mr Murphy added.
ICC Singapore fixtures
Chelsea vs Bayern Munich
Bayern Munich vs Inter Milan
Chelsea vs Inter Milan
All matches will be played at the National Stadium and kick-off is at 7.30pm. Tickets are available at Sports Hub Tix (www.sportshubtix.com). The matches will also be broadcast "live" on okto TV.