The Business Of Sport

ICC to showcase the best clubs

Patrick Murphy, chairman and president of the Catalyst Media Group, which promotes the International Champions Cup, says the "long and detailed" contracts for the tournament ensure that participating clubs are committed to bringing their first teams.
Patrick Murphy, chairman and president of the Catalyst Media Group, which promotes the International Champions Cup, says the "long and detailed" contracts for the tournament ensure that participating clubs are committed to bringing their first teams.PHOTO: CATALYST MEDIA GROUP

Big brands that bring their leading players are a major factor, says event promoter

When Argentina rolled into town last month for a football friendly against Singapore, the talk swirled around the number of absent stars, especially Lionel Messi, whose image was plastered on promotional material for the match.

But it is unlikely that there will be similar howls for refunds as the International Champions Cup (ICC) makes its debut at the National Stadium this month, with a strong cast of teams and marquee names.

For Patrick Murphy, the chairman and president of Catalyst Media Group, the Hong Kong-based promoters of the event, it is better to organise a pre-season tour with clubs instead of national teams as there is a stronger chance of the presence of star players.

"We have long and detailed contracts where the clubs are committed to us to bring their first teams," explained the Irishman.

"There are exceptions, such as when a player's partner is giving birth to a child in the preceding 48 hours, or if a player is unable to secure a visa or if he is ruled out owing to a medical condition."

The ICC will be played over three match days on July 25, 27 and 29 and will feature English Premier League champions Chelsea, German Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich and Italian Serie A traditional powerhouses Inter Milan.

The only notable absentees so far are Chelsea playmaker Eden Hazard, who is recovering from a broken ankle, and Bayern winger Arjen Robben, who has a right calf muscle problem.

  • 58%

  • Proportion of Bayern Munich's income coming from the German champions' commercial activity, including participation in last year's International Champions Cup in the United States.

Kallang awaits the best players from all three clubs as well as possible sneak previews of new signings, such as Bayern's James Rodriguez, who joined on loan from Real Madrid.

Murphy added: "The clubs are more sensitive to the need to put on the best possible show (during pre-season tours). The clubs, players and agents know very well that if they don't, it will work against them.

"The players earn their salaries from the clubs, hence that is why they are very loyal to them."

An experienced industry insider offered a different opinion, saying: "In the case of the Singapore v Argentina match (on June 13), Messi's absence had nothing to do with the clubs paying the players' salaries because he was released due to personal reasons.

"Please do understand that players are also human beings. There are circumstances (in which) the club or national team would give them permission not to join the team, due to family reasons like getting married, partner giving birth, illness, injuries (or the case of) players who play in major championships and require an extra rest period.

"So, getting back to Messi's case, his wedding was announced publicly quite early in May but it's just surprising nobody picked it up."

Certainly, the ICC's strong line-up of clubs and stars have made the tournament commercially viable.

Sportcal, which provides analysis of the business of sports, reported last July that the ICC had netted about US$23 million (S$31.6 million) in sponsorship income last year, with top companies such as adidas, Samsung and Tag Heuer all pumping in money to support the tournament.

Bloomberg also reported last year that the showpiece generated revenues of more than US$100 million annually, with Chinese investors interested in purchasing a stake in the ICC, which is valued between US$300 million and US$500 million.

With clubs needing huge revenues to finance the wages and transfer fees of quality players, teams like Bayern and Chelsea increasingly need to strengthen their commercial streams to boost their coffers.

According to Deloitte's Money League data for last year, Bayern, who are ranked fourth behind Manchester United, Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively, had commercial income of €342.6 million (S$536.8 million) which accounted for 58 per cent of their total revenue (€592 million), dwarfing ticket sales (€101.8 million) and broadcast money (€147.6 million).

Chelsea, ranked eighth in the table of powerhouses, raked in €163.1 million in commercial revenue, which was 36 per cent of their total income, although that figure is expected to rise in the light of manager Antonio Conte leading the Blues to last season's Premier League title.

When such pre-season games are properly executed, the host country's cash registers respond strongly.

In 2011, Malaysia's former Minister for Youth and Sports Shabery Cheek revealed that the visits of Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City that year generated US$60 million in tourism receipts.

And according to Murphy, Catalyst wants to put on the best possible show with a strong cast of stars as the ICC will be hosted by Singapore for four years.

He said: "What we are offering is a product that sits far above other things in Singapore. The Barclays Asia Trophy (played in 2015 and featuring Arsenal, Everton, Stoke City and a Singapore selection team) featured just one top team (the Gunners).

"The ICC offers the best of the best playing each other. While there are some complications hosting it in some other countries, Singapore has fantastic infrastructure, it has an iconic stadium, we have a great partnership with the STB (Singapore Tourism Board) and the players are happy, comfortable and feel totally safe here."

Murphy cited the 2015 example of Roma's pre-season tour of Indonesia where Adem Ljajic (Serbia), Seydou Doumbia, Gervinho (both Ivory Coast), Antonio Sanabria (Paraguay) and Victor Ibarbo (Colombia) were all denied visas to enter Jakarta.

Even before they arrive later this month, the clubs participating in the ICC have been making an effort to reach out to fans in Singapore.

The Chelsea trio of David Luiz, Nathan Ake (who has since transferred to Bournemouth) and Gary Cahill whipped up char kway teow in a video; Bayern Munich hosted a carnival at Clarke Quay last month; and Inter Milan president Erick Thohir gave this newspaper a two-part exclusive interview.

Since Catalyst was founded in 2000 by Murphy, who was previously the managing director for sales at Uefa's marketing agency TEAM Marketing, the ICC has established itself as a tournament that attracted the biggest clubs.

Powerhouses Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona and Juventus were among some of the participants.

Its matches, attracting a total audience of 70 million, are also telecast around the world, with North Korea the only exception.

The ICC also entered the United States' record books for the largest attendance for a football game when 109,318 spectators watched Manchester United play Real Madrid in Michigan in 2014.

"This is not a second-tier competition," Murphy said.

"We are here for at least four years. We hope that in the first year, the fans will get a strong sense of what we are offering and come away after having a great time and looking forward to the next year."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 14, 2017, with the headline 'ICC to showcase the best clubs'. Print Edition | Subscribe