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Last Updated: Sunday, 28 November, 2004, 17:18 GMT
Football industry's global marketplace
Bill Wilson
BBC News business reporter in Dubai

Park in Dubai
Dubai is one of the main business centres in the Gulf

Hundreds of clubs and firms involved in the football business have gathered at the picturesque Jumeriah Beach Resort in Dubai to hear what the global future holds for the industry, and to try and pick up contracts and advice that will help them run their operations more profitably.

In case anyone was in any doubt about the commercial significance of a sport that has gone from being a "game" to an industry, one only has to take a look at the many different companies hoping for a slice of the football pie.

Everyone from perimeter advertising agencies, web developers, customer relations managers, stadium designers, playing pitch manufacturers, and sports academies, are exhibiting at the Madinat Jumeriah hotel.

Not to mention film makers, politicians, bankers, and executives from clubs across Europe, Asia and Africa, plus representatives from big name sponsors and brands such as Nike, Adidas, Sony, Vodafone, 3, and Mastercard.

The reality is that our future success here in Asia depends not only on our technical development, but also our commercial development
Mohamed bin Hammam, Asian Football Confederation

The popular event, now in its eighth year and back for a fourth straight time to the United Arab Emirates, attracts more than 1,000 football business professionals from over half the world's playing nations.

Long gone are the days when all that was needed was 22 players and a ball, and one indicator of the way the game has changed can be seen in the fact there are almost as many sports marketing and rights organisations attending as clubs.

"It offers the perfect platform for all stakeholders in the game - clubs, managers, service providers and other experts to come together," according to Sepp Blatter, president of FIFA.

World Cup rights

Of close interest will be the announcement due from FIFA about its new marketing and television arrangements.

The game's often-maligned governing body is due to set out its commercial structure for 2007 onwards, in particular in relation to the 2010 and 2014 World Cups.

It will also reveal its new broadcasting tender process - TV rights being at the centre of the increasing amounts of cash that have been sloshing into the highest echelons of the sport, particularly in the UK with the Premier League and Champions League money available to clubs.

Real Madrid's David Beckham plays against Bayer Leverkusen
Many of the world's top clubs are attending the conference

Just before the World Cup two years ago, FIFA was left with egg on its face, when the company which had been given the media rights to the 2002 and 2006 competitions was declared insolvent.

Then, German media giant Kirch, which owned the rights to the two World Cups, admitted to a court it could not pay its debts. Fortunately the World Cup rights had already been stripped out and placed into a separate entity before the insolvency was declared.

That came on top of the collapse of FIFA's marketing partner ISL the previous year, with total losses of 51 million Swiss francs ($28.22 m).

On the World Cup theme, a South African delegation will also be taking the opportunity to discuss opportunities arising for the nation from its hosting of the 2010 tournament.

In addition, the role of the media in football, financial issues facing the sport, and how to manage the vast sums earned by the world's top players will all also come under the spotlight.

Government advice

Many of the biggest clubs in the world, such as Manchester United and Real Madrid are represented here, as are other English clubs such as Aston Villa, Arsenal, and Chelsea, all hoping to exchange commercial expertise in a bid to drive up their profits.

One delegation attracting a lot of attention is the one from Iraq, looking to rebuild its footballing future and secure continuing help in relaunching the game, as far as it possible, in their country.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger
The Arsenal-Emirates stadium deal was the biggest of its kind in the UK

A gauge of the importance of the football economy can be seen in the fact that 300m of soccer-related business was done in this sunny city in two days last year, and much the same is expected in 2004.

And a sign of the football industry's importance to Britain can be seen in the fact that the government has sent a delegation from UK Trade and Investment.

In its sales pitch to drum up business for UK plc it asserts: "We know the people you need to know... if you are looking for partners, goods or services from the UK in the sports infrastructure arena (we) can help to take your business further, faster."

Golden jubilee

The UK football industry - as one of the first to grasp new commercial possibilities, not always with happy results in must be said - will be offering advice to other organisations.

The fact that English attendances have been dropping in the past season, and that the gap between haves and have-nots continues to increase, may not be of interest to those hoping to emulate the vast sums made and spent by top Premiership teams.

Arsenal recently famously signed a deal worth as much as 100m over 15 years, by having its new stadium sponsored by Dubai-based Emirates airline.

Perhaps one of the organisations seeking advice from the likes of Arsenal chairman David Dein, speaking here, or from the Premier League or FA, both also represented, will be the Asian Football Confederation, celebrating 50 years of existence.

"The reality is that our future success here in Asia depends not only on our technical development, but also our commercial development," says its president Mohamed bin Hammam.

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