By Bill Wilson
Business reporter, BBC News, Johannesburg
The 12th edition of football business exposition Soccerex has kicked off in South Africa, 18 months before the country is due to host the Fifa World Cup in 2010.
Johannesburg's new stadium is due to be completed next year
And, despite the current global financial turmoil, more than 4,000 delegates from the international football fraternity, along with over 300 exhibitors, from a total of 95 countries, have gathered in Johannesburg.
A number of UK firms are represented, and this year has also seen an increase in the number of African representatives at the global business-to-business football exhibition.
"The world economy is in turmoil, and very few industries are exempt from that turmoil," says Soccerex chairman Tony Martin.
But he says it provides a good time for the industry to review its "prices, costs and capital structure" in the quest for further growth.
"Football is a global business in its own right, and one of the most important in the world," he adds.
A number of UK firms from manufacturing, technology and services have converged on the capital of Gauteng province, to win some of that business.
Among them is Icon Display, a world leader in event and venue signage and branding.
The Sidcup, Kent-based firm worked at the 2006 World Cup, and provides signage and club branding at Chelsea and Arsenal, as well as at first-class cricket for the ECB.
Now the firm, which employs 70 people in the UK and has offices worldwide, has opened an office in Johannesburg in the hope of winning contracts around the 2009 Confederations Cup and 2010 World Cup.
"The South African market for high quality event branding and signage is burgeoning, especially with the news the country will be holding a number of key sporting events," says the firm's managing director John Francis.
The venture has been established in partnership with Johannesburg-based Tone Digital.
The UK remains one of the top three investors in South Africa with £76m of two-way trade in 2007.
Symbols of success
British firms at Soccerex cover all aspects of the football industry - from commerce, training, design and event management, to logistics, marketing, manufacturing and construction.
"British firms have pioneered the transformation of modern sports and leisure architecture, demonstrating the ability to create and fit out state-of-the-art facilities that become symbols of success for host countries," says Andrew Cahn, chief executive of UK Trade and Investment.
HOK Sport Architecture is a London-based firm that is working on the development of the giant Soccer City stadium outside Johannesburg, which will host the 2010 World Cup final.
The 94,000 seat stadium, which will also host the opening game, is due to be completed by 30 October 2009.
"We are helping to transform the existing stadium on the site to create something unique for the World Cup," says HOK associate principal Damon Lavelle.
Among the many unusual features is the spacious 3,000 square metre upper concourse, which provides personal space for spectators of a type more regularly found in the theatre than at a football stadium.
Some stadium development is believed to be behind schedule, but on Monday World Cup chief executive Dr Danny Jordaan promised that the four needed for the 2009 Confederations Cup would be ready on time.
He also said that there may now be an increase of 10% in the total World Cup budget, which currently stands at 28bn rand (£1.8bn), and includes stadiums, transport, broadcasting, security and training.
"We are involved in overseeing a complex project where emergency issues shift from time to time," said Dr Jordaan.
"It may be the budget, it may be a particular stadium."
As well as organising a smooth tournament, South Africa hopes that the World Cup will be a catalyst for the nation's economy, as the sport, tourism, transport, telecoms and construction sectors all receive a boost.
The World Cup, and events such as Soccerex, also give oversees firms, including those from the UK, the chance to gain a trading foothold on the continent.
"Penetration of African markets begins here," said Gauteng province premier Paul Mashatile.
"We have to build on the success of Soccerex last year and keep building ties with the global football industry ahead of 2010."