FOOTBALL: Complacent Premiership Set for a Shock as Italian Clubs Steal a March in World's Biggest Football Markets

Article excerpt

It takes something to get 60,000 new visitors to register on a football website, ostensibly because nearly 20 times that figure has to first drop by and test the virtual water.

Despite this dependence on a measly one in 20 conversion rate in an extremely competitive market, current European champions AC Milan have managed to first attract 1.2 million people and then to register 60,000 of them on their website over the course of the last five months.

Not surprisingly, Milan own the fastest-growing football website in Asia.

As a result of their victory in the Champions League in May, the Italians have been remarkably successful in attracting a cyberfanbase large enough to fill the San Siro. Accordingly, as of last Wednesday, the official Milan site will now be available in Japanese (you can view it in English and Italian), updated every day of the year because each one of these 60,000 registered users is Japanese.

We're sometimes led to believe that the Far East is awash with football supporters wearing replica Premiership shirts, but a recent survey in China, Japan and Korea showed that four of the six most popular teams in Asia are actually Italian. AC Milan were second only to Real Madrid in the popularity stakes.

Up until now, the data available on footballing habits in the Far East has been limited to television viewing figures, but a German marketing company, SPORT+MARKT, will next week finalise a study which summarises attitudes towards sponsors, European football clubs and, most important of all, the future purchasing intentions of the Asian sports fan.

Higher than average levels of interest in the game were confirmed by the study with 60 per cent of people in Korea, China and Japan saying they were avid watchers of European football matches.

This means that more than five times the number of people watch the game in China (575 million) than in every major European market put together.

The most enthusiastic audience was in Korea where more than 80 per cent of respondents expressed a passion for the European-style game. We need only cast our minds back to last summer's World Cup to appreciate this.

The status of football personalities, European leagues and football clubs also makes for interesting reading. In China, Ronaldo is considered the most appealing sports star while in Japan, David Beckham is by far the most popular sporting personality.

Surprisingly, in each of the three countries, the Italian Serie A was considered more popular than the English Premiership, a finding which may ruffle a few feathers among Premier League executives.

The study concludes with a popularity rating awarded to the top ten European club sides; four are Italian while just two are English.

'I have to say that this data is something of a shock,' said Ardi Kolah of Maverick Communications, an agency which specialises in assessing the value of sportingbrands. …