Garena aims to promote local football

From left: Garena Associate Director Howard Soh, Garena Founder and CEO Forrest Li, FAS President Zainudin Nordin and FAS General Secretary Winston Lee.
From left: Garena Associate Director Howard Soh, Garena Founder and CEO Forrest Li, FAS President Zainudin Nordin and FAS General Secretary Winston Lee.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

It may operate in a realm far removed from a football pitch, but that has not stopped Internet and mobile firm Garena from becoming the biggest sponsor in the S-League's 20-year history.

Then again, the $4-million, two-year deal the company signed with the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) yesterday is perhaps one befitting its status.

After all, it was valued at US$2.5 billion (S$3.57 billion) last March, making it South-east Asia's largest Internet and mobile platform company and Singapore's first billion-dollar Internet company.

 

Garena, a play on the phrase "global arena", was founded in 2009 by Forrest Li and his friends.

It started as a computer-gaming platform but has since expanded into mobile e-commerce and chat apps. Last year, it launched Shopee, an online marketplace that aims to rival the likes of Carousell and Qoo10.

But its chief revenue driver is still gaming. Garena provides an online and social platform for several game titles including the popular League of Legends, which has more than 20 million players daily.

The company employs 4,500 people across South-east Asia and more than 450 in Singapore.

For Garena founder and group chief executive officer Forrest Li, the reason behind the partnership with the Young Lions is simple.

"We need to start somewhere to help domestic football. I'd love to see more people come back to the stadium to watch the league and to cheer for the local players," said Li, who does not support any team but lists France legend Zinedine Zidane and Argentina forward Lionel Messi as his favourite players.

FAS president Zainudin Nordin said he hopes this deal will encourage local clubs to step out of their comfort zones and seek sponsors beyond the sporting domain.

He said: "We need to be bolder, approach people, be able to sell value to them and make sure that they know that (local) football is a good platform."

Chua Siang Yee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 03, 2016, with the headline 'Garena aims to promote local football'. Print Edition | Subscribe