Tthere are concerns in England about whether Manchester City’s increasing dominance will reduce the Premier League’s popular and commercial appeal. However, the signs in Asia, the largest overseas market, suggest that even a succession of City pageants will result in more fans for the club rather than less for the league.
“Nobody in South Korea thinks the Premier League will be uncompetitive, especially if City can also achieve meaningful results at continental level and there are still dogfights between big clubs to qualify for the Champions League,” said Baek Jung- hyun, head of planning at KBS. This is reported by the South Korean public broadcaster Sports. “There are plenty of interesting points in the Premier League for Korean fans. Arsenal could have been champions and nobody expected that at the start of the season.”
Asia, where more than half of the world’s population lives, is far from one mass. The regions (there are five football sub-federations: east, southeast, central, west and south) are made up of countries with their own cultures, languages and histories. Overall, however, England’s top flight is the most watched foreign league, with football-loving South East Asia, home to around 650 million people, the continent’s traditional English football breeding ground.
In Malaysia, this season’s ratings are the highest in six years. Broadcasters believe the upward trend will continue as long as Manchester United and Liverpool, traditionally the two biggest teams in the country, as well as Arsenal and others, are at the top, attracting big players and playing good football. Sasi Kumar, a former Singapore international and now CEO of D+1 Sports in Madrid, agrees. “Fans are mixed in Singapore. Liverpool and United fans have the history and many of them are now in their 40s and 50s, but the younger fans go for who wins and who is popular. If City keep winning, I don’t see it affecting the Premier League in Asia.”
The market for European competitions is a bit more difficult in China, but England is the player to beat there too and the supporters will not give up when the battle at the top becomes predictable. “Chinese fans won’t be bored as long as the English Premier League continues to spend to attract most of the top talent around the world,” said Luo Ming, editor of long-standing sports newspaper Titan Sports. “While Manchester City’s dominance has been evident in recent years, the battle for the championship this season has generated a lot of discussion.”
In the west, Wael Chehayeb of the Lebanese Football Federation estimates that four in five football fans in the country watch the Premier League. “It’s by far the most exciting competition,” Chehayeb said, adding that there are few concerns about competitiveness. He singles out the recent draw between Champions League-bound Newcastle and soon-to-relegate Leicester as an example of its unpredictability. “The position of the two teams doesn’t matter – it’s not easy to predict the winner.”
Al-Nassr fan Jana Mohammed watched from Saudi Arabia. “The Premier League is the most popular competition here and people support different clubs, especially Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal. No football fan likes to be dominated by one team, but they like to see their team win.” It should come as no surprise that there is more excitement in the country for next season with Saudi-owned Newcastle on their way to the top. “Now Saudis have a different team,” Mohammed said. many are the favourite. We feel loyal to it.”
It could be that Newcastle is the best hope to challenge the United Arab Emirates-backed city. Either way, if the team continues to improve, their fan base will grow. The city has. No one would have imagined 15 years ago that City could one day challenge Manchester United and Liverpool for the affection of Asian fans.
“City is definitely getting more popular in Korea,” said Baek. “Without Park Ji-sung, Manchester United are no longer number 1 and Tottenham have the Korean superhero.” That love may not last longer than Son Heung-min. “Many see Liverpool as having the most loyal fanbase in Korea, but lately City have seen a surge in popularity, not just through their titles, but their attacking style with superstars like [Erling] Haaland and Kevin [De Bruyne].”
In Malaysia, Manchester United and Liverpool are still in the lead – Merseyside’s first derby was the most watched game this season – but City’s ratings, along with Newcastle’s, are improving. Also in the Middle East. “Lebanon fans love Pep,” said Chehayeb, a City supporter, and there is a growing fan base in Saudi Arabia.
It’s not just about the players, the coach and the football, but also the off-field commitment of the City Football Group (CFG), of which the Manchester club is one of 13 members. “City is doing a lot of work in Asia,” said Kumar, an Everton fan. “They are pushing CFG rather than just City and are very active.”
Things are going well in Asia. Mumbai City and Melbourne City finished top of the Indian and Australian leagues respectively in the 2022–23 season. There is a 20% stake in Yokohama F. Marinos, the reigning champion of Japan.
In the medium term, continued success for Manchester City at least means more fans for the club than less interest in the Premier League. “If there’s more dominance in the next 10 or 12 years,” says Kumar, “you’ll have a whole generation of fans who have grown up with City winning and Asian fans drawn to those who win.”
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