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Last Updated: Sunday, 13 November 2005, 10:18 GMT
Soccerex firms seek winning formula
By Bill Wilson
BBC News business reporter

Youngsters kick footballs in front of the Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai
Manchester United has recently opened a football school in Dubai

The cream of the world's football industry is in Dubai this weekend for the annual Soccerex convention, hoping to secure deals, establish business connections, and hear ideas from leaders of major clubs and federations.

The convention, in its ninth year, is the last before the 2006 World Cup, and continuing proof of the growing global wealth and presence of the football "product".

This year more than 2,000 professionals and 100 exhibitors are expected from more than 75 countries, looking to collaborate, learn and do business.

Two years ago more than 300m worth of business was signed off during Soccerex 2003, rising to more than 350m in 2004, and that figure is set to grow again this year.

'Sponsorship strategies'

World governing body Fifa is expected to make a number of announcements at the conference, which starts in Dubai on Sunday, its fifth straight time in the United Arab Emirates.

Representatives of World Cup 2006 in Germany and World Cup 2010 in South Africa will be revealing their plans for the tournaments - including updates on TV coverage, stadiums, ticketing, policing and commercial strategies.

It's extremely important as an industry benchmark
Peter Kenyon, Chelsea chief executive

"Rapid changes in the media landscape, the evolution of sponsorship strategies, the need for clubs to establish new revenue streams, and the ever growing demand for professional services and cutting edge products" are all in the spotlight say organisers.

Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool, Manchester United, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Juventus, Roma, the two Milan clubs, Rangers and Celtic, are among the clubs hoping to develop their global brands.

Of close interest will be the announcement due from world governing body Fifa about its New Media arrangements for the World Cup, marketing plans for 2007, and the announcement of a tender process for Asian television rights.

Club vs country

However beneath the surface of the wheeling, dealing, networking, and gala dinners, everything is not entirely rosy in the football garden.

This is recognised in workshops addressing some of the biggest issues on the field of play - such as the thorny issues of goal-line technology, agents, player fitness, and drug monitoring.

G-14 projection at 2005 annual conference
The G-14 group is on a collision course with Fifa

However, off the field there are equally important issues bubbling under, prime among them being the club versus country row between Fifa and the elite G-14 group of richest clubs.

G-14 believes clubs should get more recompense for releasing players for international duty.

Charleroi, a Belgian club, is being backed by G-14 in a court battle with Fifa, arguing that the rule forcing clubs to release players to their national associations without payment or compensation for injury is illegal.

The Belgian club lost Morocco player Abdelmajid Oulmers for eight months when he tore ligaments during a friendly against Burkina Faso, and a court date has been set for March 2006.

It means a seminar on football governance, whose speakers include Markus Siegler, director of Fifa communications, and Umberto Gandini, a G-14 member from AC Milan, could be a stormy affair.

Asian markets

Another session will study Football's Fastest Growth Area - Asia, with marketing and TV executives discussing the potential of the region.

The continent has long been top of leading clubs' target lists for expansion, and Manchester United even opened a new soccer school in Dubai earlier in November.

However, European football clubs looking to crack Asian markets got a cool response this summer, and are gradually realising that they can not expect to create a strong presence or new revenue streams simply by playing a friendly match or two.

Blackburn Rovers v West Bromwich Albion in October, 2005
Empty seats are a worry in the English Premiership

The British football industry - usually among the first to grasp new commercial possibilities - will be discussing the way ahead and offering advice in a panel discussion Football - The UK Journey.

The fact Manchester United, Chelsea and other Premiership clubs have had empty seats this season, or that there is a growing income gap between top and bottom clubs, may not unduly worry those hoping to emulate the commercial operations of leading teams.

Earlier this autumn Fifa president Sepp Blatter said that "pornographic amounts of money" were ruining football.

Fifa has also established a task force to deal with the excesses, including corruption and multiple-ownership issues.

London giants

With the game worth so much and the potential rewards so lucrative it is hardly surprising that corruption might creep in; with recent scandals in Italy, Germany and China.

On this issue, transparency, ethics and accountability are set to be discussed in Dubai.

One of those on the panel is Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein, whose club has been engaged in a series of spats with fellow London outfit Chelsea.

The Premier League held Chelsea and Ashley Cole guilty over the attempted tapping-up of the player, following a complaint by Arsenal, and more recently their managers - Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger - have exchanged angry words.

As it happens Peter Kenyon, the chief executive of Chelsea, is also due to speak at Soccerex, although perhaps fortunately he is appearing a day before Mr Dein.

Both were at last year's event, and Mr Kenyon seems in no doubt about its value.

"It's extremely important as an industry benchmark. It has grown on each occasion. It's probably the best networking conference today... it's critical to the football industry," he said.




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