Football: Man City sets up office in Singapore; priority in brand recognition, not dollars

CFG commercial director Omar Berrada says its tailored approach differentiates it from other investment vehicles.
CFG commercial director Omar Berrada says its tailored approach differentiates it from other investment vehicles.ST PHOTO: ALICIA CHAN

Manchester City are the latest European football club to set up shop in Singapore but officials insist selling jerseys and securing sponsors take a backseat to what they call "building the City experience".

After all, money is no issue for a club backed by the oil riches of Abu Dhabi billionaire Sheikh Mansour Zayed Al Nahyan.

Their starting XI in the English Premier League are reportedly worth £308 million (S$658 million) while a 32ha academy - built at a cost of £200 million - sits proudly alongside the Etihad Stadium in Manchester.

Building a brand recognised and revered the world over is a priority for the City Football Group (CFG).

It owns Manchester City, New York City FC and Melbourne City, and also recently purchased a minority stake in J-League side Yokohama Marinos.

With that in mind, City Football Singapore - a fully-owned subsidiary of CFG - will oversee the commercial operations in South-east Asia and work closely with corporate partners and fans across the football-mad region.

Starting with a full-time staff of four, the new office aims to better engage the club's estimated 80 million fans in the Asean region.

For instance, the club's official website is in 13 different languages and more region-specific content will be rolled out.

CFG also has offices in Abu Dhabi, Tokyo and Melbourne.

On the back of two EPL titles in 2012 and 2014, City have forged 10 commercial partnerships in this region alone, including Thai beverage giant Singha and Indonesian insurance company Jiwasraya.

"It's not just the success on the pitch but the type of football we play; people like watching Manchester City and companies want to be associated with us," CFG commercial director Omar Berrada told The Straits Times yesterday.

Other clubs who have offices in Singapore include German giants Borussia Dortmund, Spanish outfit Valencia who are owned by Singaporean billionaire Peter Lim, and defending EPL champions Chelsea.

City claim to have 400 million followers worldwide while Manchester United have a purported fanbase of 659 million.

But Berrada said there is no pressure to catch up with their city rivals - off the field, at least.

"We focus on ourselves - it's not about the numbers but rather how you engage with your fans," said the Moroccan, who was previously the sponsorship chief of Spanish champions Barcelona.

"There's no point having twice the number of fans we have if you don't create the kind of emotional engagement they deserve."

City's star-studded squad - led by forwards Sergio Aguero, David Silva and Raheem Sterling - will make more visits to the region in the coming years to meet fans and play in friendly matches.

Manuel Pellegrini's side beat the Vietnam national team 8-1 in Hanoi in July, and also won the 2013 Barclays Asia Trophy in Hong Kong.

Their sister clubs are also proving a hit. Inspired by star signings Frank Lampard, Andrea Pirlo and David Villa, New York City FC drew an average crowd of 29,000 during their Major League Soccer debut campaign this season.

Melbourne City, who signed Singapore midfielder Safuwan Baharudon on a short-term loan deal earlier this year, reached the A-League semi-finals this campaign.

Berrada said: "Regardless of where the team are, they all have the City identity in terms of how they play and how fans and partners are taken care of.

" CFG has a tailored approach.

"It won't be easy for other clubs to replicate our model because this is the result of years of hard work and sound investment."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 28, 2015, with the headline 'City's priority lies in brand recognition, not dollars'. Subscribe