Saturday, 7 March 2009

Man City end Thai links

Manchester City Football Club has officially announced the closure of its operations in Thailand according to Reuters.

This announcement has been inevitable ever since former owner, ex-Thai PM Thaksin Shinawatra, curiously nicknamed Frank by City fans, sold the club to a Middle Eastern consortium in September 2008.

Thaksin ambitious plans to paint Thailand, and Asia, blue included partnerships with clubs in Thailand, South Africa, Switzerland, Australia, China and Russia, the purchase of 3 Thai international players, plans for academies of excellence in Thailand and other major Asian countries and mass merchandising across the Asian region. 

The announcement below last week has officially ended all of these initiatives and the club of today is vastly different (read considerably more wealthy) than at any time in its history.

"We saw no point in carrying on after the Shinawatra family sold its share. City still has fans here but there's not a lot of interest anymore."

What ever people say about Thaksin, his track record in the world of business suggests he is a shrewd entrepreneur capable of growing companies and businesses in huge brands. His failure at Manchester City is due to two major points.

1) Problems in Thailand - his position at the club became increasingly untenable when the Thai Supreme Court found him guilty of corruption from his time as Prime Minister. The freezing of his assets in Thailand caused a major panic at the club as it had spend beyond its means reliant on Thaksin's wealth, this led to its sale.

2) Football is unlike the world of business - football is littered with successful businessmen who failed as chairmen or financial backers. He saw Manchester City as a brand which could become synonymous with Asia, Thailand in particular, however, swapping a team is different to changing a consumers habits. The brand loyalty of a football team is hugely different to that of a car, clothing or food - these consumer goods follow consumer/marketing theories in a way sport does not.

Popularity outside of a club's country is reliant upon success. With the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool out-performing City for years, the majority of Thais were unlikely to be swayed overnight simply because of a club's chairman and the presence of 3 fellow countrymen in the reserve team (all of whom were loaned out in Switzerland). Sure some new fans would be attracted but those most likely to continually spend on merchandise are the football crazy and most of these already have a team and are unlikely to change in the short-term.

I moved to Thailand in October  so I cannot speak about the success of Thaksin's initiatives but I can say that I have never seen more Liverpool fans anywhere!

The main football team of Thailand is definitely Liverpool, with Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal all close behind. I suspect this is similar across Asia, and Thaksin's 1o months at Manchester City have come to nothing. 

It's been speculated that Thaksin used Man City as a political pawn in Thailand or that it was a legitimate way of securing his wealth in Britain and helping set up home in the UK. These may all be true but from a football point of view, it is a miracle that the saga has passed with Manchester City is in a better position than before. A chairman with a non-footballing interests in a club is a recipe for disaster.

Thaksin was either lucky to find his Zillionaire buyer in the Middle East or, as an experienced businessman, he is incredibly well connected - like most arguments around the affairs of the man, with little fact available opinion will be strongly divided.

UPDATE: interestingly Man City's Thai website comes out top with on Google Thailand search - will the site be maintained regularly in light of City's withdrawl?

Man City's departure from Thailand is not the end for Premiership teams in the country. Arsenal is linked to Thai Premier Division side BEC and the club runs a Thai version of its website. As a Gooner this is yet another incentive for me to learn Thai...


Anonymous said...

"This announcement has been inevitable ever since former owner, ex-Thai PM Thaksin Shinawatra, curiously nicknamed Frank by City fans"

Not that curious... Thaksin Shinawatra = Thaksin Sinatra = Frank Sinatra.

Jon said...

fair point, not one of my finest pieces of detective work