MIXING PROFIT WITH PLEASURE
Malaysian football was perceived to be in a healthy state in the 50s.
On the global front, it had a showpiece event to be proud of in the form of the Merdeka Tournament, an event that was known beyond its shores.
In the domestic game, the HMS Malaya Cup, the precursor to the Malaysia Cup, was the ultimate aim for every footballer worth his salt.
For up and coming youth, there was the Burnley Cup, introduced in 1962 and which was later rebranded as the Razak Cup for players under the age of 20, to look forward to.
Life was much simpler then. And believe it or not, despite not having fully embraced commercialism, the competitions were fully sponsored by tobacco money!
The widespread reality in Malaysia then was the strong links between the Malayan Tobacco Company with the no 1 sport in the country.
Players Gold Leaf for example financed the coaching sojourns of German master coach Dettmar Cramer and Scotsman Dave McLaren, who won the Malaya Cup as a goalkeeper with Penang in 1954 before becoming coach of the 1971 pre-Olympics team.
The trip to Europe made by the late Tan Sri Abdul Ghani Minhat and Robert Choe in the 1960s was also financed by tobacco money.
The Burnley Cup – a ready-made platform for talent scouts to scour for unpolished gems – too was brought to the public by cigarette companies.
The Merdeka Tournament would not have been a great success without the support of various sponsors and partners to FAM, which until 1984, had only three properties to their name – the Merdeka Tournament, the Malaysia Cup and the FAM Cup.
Then came the semi-pro league in 1989.
In terms of drawing power, there was nothing wrong with the Malaysia Cup. But apart from the annual ritual to see who would emerge as the winner, it was not helping FAM keep pace with the global game.
It yearned for a league that offered the competitive edge over a certain period.
Competitions mushroomed. On top of the existing tournaments, the two-tier Semi-Pro league and the FA Cup as well as the revamped inter-club FAM Cup created a multi-million ringgit industry.
When Sultan Ahmad Shah took over FAM in 1984, the sponsorship income was RM500,000, inclusive of the Merdeka Tournament, while the bank balance was RM500,000.
FAM too generated token income from rental of the old Wisma FAM at Jalan Maharajalela.
The figures shot up within seven years, with an income of RM11.5 million annually with an excess cash of RM10 million.
How did FAM cultivate a relationship with the various stakeholders – the sponsors, the media and the fans especially?
It was unavoidable for FAM to create a stronger link with commercial enterprise. The conventional means of keeping sponsors happy was to have their logos on jerseys and the naming rights to various competitions and all marketing collaterals, including outdoor advertising such as billboards.
Before the advent of satellite television, broadcasting rights of local competitions were distributed to either government-run RTM or private stations such as TV3 and ntv7.
There was no other media rights involved.
For key events like a Malaysia Cup draw, for instance, was held in a lavish manner as the media mixed business with pleasure on land and sea.
Fast forward to 2015, football in Malaysia has become a far greater profit-maximising industry.
Astro’s RM30 million a year sponsorship which ran from 2011 to 2015 raised the profile of the domestic game.
The commercial aspects of the game grew, with capital accumulation by offering opportunities for enterprises to provide essentials and accessories, retail, sponsorship and advertising.
Repucom, a leading market research audit company, calculated the total media value of the league amounted to almost RM500 million.
And when Astro’s sponsorship term ended in early 2015, it created a bidding war that ultimately led to the appointment of MP & Silva as a global adviser for FAM.
Tasked to bring in at least RM80 million a year for FMLLP, the entity formed to run the M-League, MP & Silva have managed to draw sponsors with naming rights for the FA Cup and the Malaysia Cup.
In return the sponsors demand for greater brand exposure!
While the action that takes place outside the pitch sometimes overshadow the ongoings on it, football continues to evoke passion of the most extreme.
Since it is one of the most marketable and influential products, one’s passionate allegiance to the sport is manipulated by marketing gurus and individuals seeking personal gain, whether you are in Malaysia or elsewhere.
Football is certainly no ordinary business. Traditionally football teams aim to win matches, not to make profit. The ultimate challenge is to strike while the iron is hot. Then only can one mix business with pleasure.