Everyone knows that English football is huge in the Far East, but the sheer scale and potential of this was really brought home to me after a trip to the Hong Kong International Licensing Show with representatives of West Ham United.
The trip was groundbreaking in that it was the first time any English Premier League (EPL) club has made an appearance at the event. However, any worries I had that we may be no more than a passing novelty were quickly dispelled by the response we received - it was nothing short of incredible, we were inundated by visitors to the stand and the organisers were delighted to have us there, arranging a string of interviews with local newspapers and TV stations.
I have to admit that I was taken aback by just how popular we turned out to be, yet perhaps I shouldn’t have been - the EPL is the most watched domestic league in the world and particularly massive in the Far East. It’s not just the big boys such as Manchester United and Liverpool that are popular, other clubs such as West Ham also have significant followings.
This is not a just a recent phenomenon driven by screenings on satellite television - I found that there is a real depth of enthusiasm for the club that stretches back many years. One Chinese man of about 70 came to the stand and excitedly asked us about Phil Parkes, a goalkeeper who last played for West Ham in the 1980s!
This popularity is being helped by the willingness of clubs to go on pre-season tours to the Far East and take part in tournaments, as West Ham United did last year by playing in the Barclays Asia Trophy. However, television is obviously the biggest factor in popularising English football in the Far East and across the globe. In fact the figures are absolutely mind-boggling – the Premier League is beamed into 611 million households across more than 200 countries, with a cumulative global audience of over three billion per season.
It’s easy to see what this can mean in licensing terms – even the biggest entertainment brands cannot hope to achieve these sort of figures on an annual basis and they also tend to appeal to particular demographics and be at the mercy of viewing trends and fashions.
Football doesn’t have these problems - throughout its history the beautiful game has just got more and more popular and there is an absolutely voracious appetite for top-flight English football across the globe. That’s something that is simply not going to change and what’s more the game has no barriers - it appeals to young and old, male and female, rich and poor alike.
The potential is vast and with West Ham United we already have a lot to build on. For a start there are 600,000 fans registered on the club’s database. This popularity is reflected in a strong licensing programme – in the UK we have 35 licences in place across categories including apparel, footwear, gifts, and stationery, with leading licensees on board such as Danilo, Aykroyds, Pyramid and Home Win.
After our successful trip to Hong Kong this number will undoubtedly be added to by partners from the Far East; we also spoke to interested licensees from other parts of the world, such as Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
English football brands are a global phenomenon, but it’s up to the licensing industry to take advantage of this - the world is waiting.