KPMG examines local football development in lead-up to Asian Cup final

01 February 2019 4 min. read

As the count-down is on to the AFC Asian Cup final in Abu Dhabi, KPMG has taken a look into some tournament statistics to assess the state of football in Asia.

Following the 4-0 thrashing of host nation the UAE amid hostile scenes, Qatar is set to take on 2011 champions Japan in this year’s AFC Asian Cup final at ZSC Stadium in Abu Dhabi. In the lead-up to the main event, Big Four professional services firm KPMG’s Football Benchmark team has taken a look into some tournament statistics to see what they could reveal about the state of the game in Asia.

The first point of note, and an issue which carried ongoing concerns in the event’s long build-up, is the tournament’s overall low attendance figures – averaging so far around 11,000 per match, despite budget-priced ticketing and Local Organising Committee director Aref Al Awani’s consistent reminders of the UAE’s large local Asian expat population and its four-hour flight proximity to some 2 billion people.

With the most expensive ticket to this year’s final priced at just €72, it is hoped that host Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi – the largest of the eight tournament venues at 45,000 seats – can push closer to capacity. It is also hoped that some of the ugly scenes which have marred the tournament to date – punctuated by the Qatari players being pelted with plastic bottles following the semi-final trouncing – will be absent from the decider.

Unfortunately, with ongoing heightened political tensions between the majority of the GCC bloc and Qatar, and the difficulty for Qatari fans to attend due to the UAE and Saudi-led blockade of the nation, the final is also likely to be a disappointment for attendance numbers and crowd behaviour. The Qatar fixture against North Korea – also on the diplomatic black-list, attracted just 452 fans. KPMG examines development of Asian football in lead-up to cup final

As to what this means for the health of the football industry in Asia? Oddly, a recent industry survey revealed that eight out of ten Emiratis describe themselves as interested in football – a greater proportion than in Portugal, with its similar population and poster-boy Cristiano Ronaldo, and far higher than in traditional football powerhouses Germany, France, Spain, Italy and Brazil. Perhaps then, with Asia now estimated to be home to more than a billion football fans, it’s just the quality on the pitch?

Notably, according to KPMG’s assessment, half of the top ten Asian players by market value currently playing at European clubs are absent from this year’s Asian Cup, either through injury or being left out of the squad. “The Asian continent has a hunger for top quality football,” says Andrea Sartori, KPMG’s Hungary-based Global Head of Sports and the leader of its Football Benchmark team.

Sartori continues; “It also has vast and dense populations and fast growing economies. All of these factors bear extraordinary potential for the game, and thus real prospects to generate big business regarding media rights, sponsorships and social media opportunities in Asia. Nevertheless, the question of when Asian football will be able to challenge the game’s traditional superpowers on the pitch as well, still remains.”

This contended desire for top-flight football has thrown up another Asian Cup oddity;  both in this and the last tournament held in Australia, there have been no main sponsors from China, despite the country qualifying for both and contributing seven out of 19 sponsors of last year’s World Cup in Russia. The reason, KPMG suggests, is the country’s desire to aim bigger and become a global player – with China having instituted an ambitious programme towards football supremacy by 2050.

Still, many have tipped the UAE event to be an off-field success, including fellow Big Four firm Deloitte, with yet another, EY, calculating the previous tournament to have delivered over AU$80 million in direct expenditure to the Australian economy. Yet challenges remain in the development of football in Asia, for clubs, leagues and investors as well. Among the hurdles, says KPMG; “diverse operating models throughout the continent, competition from European leagues and other popular sports locally, and regulations limiting the number of foreign players that clubs can field.”

Related: KPMG in Qatar sign MoU to support 2022 FIFA World Cup legacy planning.