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Arsenal announces Indian football scheme

December 21, 2007 14:07 IST

England's soccer league teams are following the lead of multinationals and beginning to look to emerging markets for growth, with Premier League leader Arsenal FC on Tuesday announcing an initiative aimed at giving it a foothold in India.

Arsenal said it planned to set up a football tournament and coaching programme that will be the first of its kind for an English team in India in partnership with Tata Tea, the beverage unit of the Tata group - one of India's largest conglomerates. It is also considering establishing a football academy in the country.

"If the right opportunity comes along, it [an academy] would be something we would be interested in doing," Paul Shipwright, who runs Arsenal 's international school soccer programme, told the Financial Times.

The major football clubs are increasingly eyeing Asia as a potential long-term source of revenue growth from advertising, sponsorships, merchandising and ticket sales, and from partnering with local clubs to develop their businesses. They also view it as a potential future pool of new talent.

Asia's rising prosperity and rapidly expanding satellite television audience is creating a new class of soccer-mad consumers.

"A lot of the big clubs are looking at ways to galvanise support in local territories," Adrian Ford, Arsenal commercial director, said after announcing the India move in Mumbai.

Arsenal already has partnerships with two teams in Asia - Vietnamese League Club Hoang Anh Gia Lai and Thailand's BEC Tero Sasana Football Club.

It has football academies in these two countries, run in partnership with a company founded by French footballer Jean-Marc Guillou, and has soccer schools in 18 countries around the world.

Other teams seeking to raise their profile in Asia include Manchester United, which earlier this year toured the region and revamped local language websites in Japan, South Korea and China.

Under their partnership, Tata Tea and Arsenal will hold a football competition that will culminate in a national tournament.

A selection panel will choose 30 boys from this tournament for two weeks of coaching by Arsenal in Calcutta before a final 15 are sent to the UK for the "Arsenal International Soccer Festival" in August.

Tata Tea managing director Percy Siganporia said the initiative was aimed helping to bring the company's brands to life. "It's the feelgood factor that can raise the profile of a brand from being an also ran," he said.

In cricket-mad India, boosting soccer would also create a new front for advertisers, which have few other sports to which to turn.

Mr Ford said it was still early days in the globalisation of football clubs. Arsenal was exploring a multitude of different models, from the soccer schools and academies to partnering with local clubs that would take on some element of Arsenal branding.

"I don't think there is a magic equation and to that extent we are all still involved in R&D," Mr Ford said.

Joe Leahy in Mumbai