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Manchester United’s Popularity reflects the Thai Economy
Manchester United and Thailand have a lot in common at the moment. Their currencies have been strong for long periods; amidst vociferous opposition, management has taken on a heavy burden of debt to make them even stronger; however, recent results show they are vulnerable to storm clouds abroad.
Coincidentally – or not – the English champions recently arrived in Bangkok to play a pre-season friendly against a Thai Premier League side selected by the sponsors – a local beer producer.
Such summer trips are now a regular feature of the top European teams’ calendar. So much so that Chelsea, Liverpool and Barcelona all have summer dates in the Thai capital. Thus, it is worth looking at why club officials choose Thailand as one of the stop-offs.
It would be na?ve to think that an 11-hour flight to play in scorching conditions is ideal preparation for the long season ahead, which culminates in a World Cup in Brazil next July. Of course, these trips are all about brand awareness to sell more television subscriptions, merchandise and sponsorship revenue – Thailand’s two major beer and water companies pay good money to decorate their bottles with images of Europe’s most popular teams.
The globalisation of European football has increased astonishingly in the last decade. Even if international fans have no idea about the legacy of Duncan Edwards, Ozzie Osgood, Bill Shankly or Ladislao Kubala, pictures of shirt and scarf-clad fans during Manchester United’s visit showed that Thais are still willing to pay the price of fandom.
That in itself is an interesting reflection of how high the level of Thais’ purchasing power has become. Despite relatively cheap ticket prices, local teams fail to attract large attendances. Yet, tv-operator True Visions saw it fit to fork out THB 2.1 billion (USD 69.7m, GBP 44.9m) in 2010 for the three-year Premier League rights deal which ended in May of this year. More than a fifth of the company’s subscribers chose to pay around THB 2,000 a month (USD 66, GBP 42) to be able to watch live English matches.
Manchester United lost the match 1-0 and as beer companies help fuel Thais’ desire to spend money on a foreign brand of football, rather than their local equivalent, it is ironic that commentators saw the stand-out player in Bangkok to be Manchester United’s Adnan Januzaj – a Belgian.
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