The outbreak of coronavirus has led some Premier League clubs to review their pre-season plans for 2020.
It had been predicted that Arsenal were due to play in China in 2020 as part of one of the many different international pre-season tournaments that happen. These plans will now be in doubt.
This has led some fans to comment about their disdain for these sort of pre-season tours, which are on the face of it are driven by the appearance fees clubs get paid.
Gone are the days of Arsene Wenger taking his squad to an Austrian mountain for pre-season training with a few games against the local fisherman.
Money-spinning international tours are often used to highlight the greed in football, the commercialism. That managers complain about fixture congestion whilst they are “forced” to take their players to Sydney, Shanghai and LA in pre-season; clocking up thousands of air miles.
Being negative about pre-season tours in Singapore, New York and Dubai is surely just an outdated view held by people who do not really understand?
Pre-season is a major money-spinner.
Promoters, who must be match agent-licensed by Fifa, pay clubs a fee – often US$1 million or more per game for major teams.
In 2019/20 Arsenal played 3 International Champions Cup games in American which they would have expected to earn around $3million for.
As Arsenal fans we often moan about the clubs poor commercial income, lagging behind Manchester United, Liverpool and even Tottenham these days. Is it then not hypocritical to complain about poor commercial income, whilst also complaining about being paid millions to take the team to America, Thailand or Dublin.
How many millions did Arsenal miss out on going to Austria whilst Manchester United were going to China, Thailand and Australia in the 90s?
The big money from the pre-season tours, however, is not that initial fee but what comes from it. The increased brand awareness.
Playing games abroad is the quickest way for a side to get a foothold in that city or country. Off the back of these tours, clubs can sign new commercial deals with regional companies. These deals can prove very lucrative.
In 2018, Manchester United generated £275million in commercial income, Arsenal’s was just £107million.
The difference is not just because of the major deals – kit manufacture, shirt sponsor, sleeve sponsor, naming rights – but also the smaller deals.
Manchester United’s commercial income dwarfs Arsenal’s despite them having not sold the naming rights to Old Trafford.
Their “global partners” site shows them having 24 global partners, from betting to pillows, tyres to wine. They have an additional 9 regional partners including an Official Soft Drink Partner of Manchester United for China, Official Nutritional Supplements Partner of Manchester United for Japan, Official Soft Drinks Partner of Manchester United for Nigeria and Official Pharmaceutical Partner of Manchester United for Korea and Vietnam.
On top of these, they also have 14 financial partners and 14 media partners. They have an Official Broadcast Partner of Manchester United in Mauritius and an Official Financial Services Affinity Partner of Manchester United for Serbia, amongst others.
The Manchester United brand has been on a global tour for over 20 years. Building relationships, selling themselves. This commercial income is built off the back of pre-season tours.
Brand Finance research showed that 42% of Chinese fans bought brands that sponsor their favourite club. It is huge business.
Arsenal have been behind the ball game when it comes to taking the side abroad. Remaining in Austria allowed the likes of Chelsea to overtake us as a global brand.
If Arsenal are to close the commercial revenue gap, they need to build their brand stronger abroad. This means more tours to China, Thailand, Singapore and America. Without these tours we will continue to fall behind.
We also need to accept that football is a global game. Playing abroad gives fans of Arsenal in those countries a chance to see their team play. And through their passion the fan base will grow, and with it the commercial income.
The facilities and hotels Arsenal will stay, train and play in are world class.
It will be 5 star hotels, modern training facilities and perfect pitches. This isn’t Arsenal taking the team to Bangkok, staying in a back packers hotel off the Khao San Road, and playing on a mud pitch. The Rajamangala Stadium is a 65,000 arena renovated in 2019.
The facilities Arsenal use in America, Australia or Singapore will be better than those used in Austria.
Ultimately, these tours are not a new thing – we all remember the stories of Ray Parlour in Hong Kong. That was back in 1995.
If you stand still in football, you go backwards. Pre-season tours thousands of miles away from London are key to a successful future for Arsenal. Without them we will fall further behind.