As I touched upon in my previous blog, the Premier League has grown in the last 20 years and become a global empire. Football is still the number one sport in the UK, and is becoming ever more popular in the United States (possibly due to a rather famous Premier League protégé - David Beckham) but it is now a household sport. Clubs have forged partnerships with clubs in South Africa and all over Europe.
However, the football culture has reached a whole different level in Asia and it is the most widely distributed sports programme. Eight years ago matches were attracting television audiences between 100 million and 360 million, however since broadcasting rights were sold to a subscription channel, viewing figures sadly declined.
The Premier League has acknowledge the phenomenon they have become out in the far east and now a number or clubs embark on a pre-season tour of Asia. The fans that avidly watch the players they love on TV actually get the chance to watch them play, train and if they are lucky, meet them in person in one of their signing sessions.
It seems to be an honour for those parts of the world to host the tour and it is incredible how much the Asian fans have welcomed the English teams. It is fascinating just how many people have showed up to show their love for our clubs and it just makes you realise how many people there are around the world that supports them.
Fans turned up at 5am to meet Liverpool in Malaysia and 38,000 turned up to watch the train. Liverpool claim to have had in the region of 200,000 fans turn up to support them during their two games, open training sessions and other activities.
Chelsea had thousands of fans turn up to their first open training session and Arsenal had 40,000+ fans for training and over 55,000 for their match against a Malaysia XI side.
Arsenal and Liverpool both played two different teams in each half of their matches, which would normally frustrate fans but in Asia it just meant there were more players on show for their entertainment. They don’t care who they watch as long as they are getting to see their favourite players. It didn’t matter that Fabregas wasn’t there, and it didn’t matter that Gerrard wasn’t there.
I used to think that it was only Manchester United that has such a huge global following but it’s great to see how much of an impact English football has around the world - and long may it continue.