English Soccer Champion Chelsea Taps Asia for Stadium Sponsor

Chelsea, the English Premier League soccer champion, is looking to Asia’s surging economy for its first stadium sponsor.

The team owned by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich has been marketing the 133-year-old Stamford Bridge, which seats 42,000, for a year. Ben Wells, the London club’s head of marketing, says conditions in the global economy mean takers are likely to come from the east.

“We are in Asia, absolutely,” Wells said in an interview. “There are a lot of brands in these markets who eventually are going to outstrip their domestic demand and look to launch internationally. What better platform than the global footprint the Premier League provides?”

Asia is proving increasingly important to Chelsea and its rivals in English soccer’s top division.

The Blues’ principal sponsor is South Korean consumer goods maker Samsung Electronics Co., while 18-time champions Liverpool and Manchester United signed their biggest sponsorship contracts with Standard Chartered Plc and Aon Corp., two companies looking to expand in the region. Venky’s (India) Ltd., which runs poultry farms, would become the first South Asian owner of a Premier League team if it completes a 46 million-pound ($74 million) deal to buy 1995 champion Blackburn.

Stadium sponsors in England include Emirates airline and Adidas AG’s Reebok brand at Arsenal and Bolton, respectively.

Colossal Market

Chelsea sponsors the Asian Football Confederation, an organization responsible for soccer in 46 countries. The team will play exhibition matches in Thailand, Malaysia and Hong Kong in the 2011 offseason. In the past six months the major exchanges in those three markets have grown by 33 percent, 18 percent and 25 percent respectively.

“The Asian market is colossal,” Wells said. “If you look at the AFC, they represent two-thirds of the world’s population.”

Current market conditions aren’t easy because sponsorship is being passed through greater internal rigor in terms of return on investment, according to Wells.

“The right partner will come along at the right time,” he said.

The Blues’ commercial revenue of 52 million pounds in 2009 is less than six of its European rivals’, according to accountant Deloitte LLP. It ranks third in the Premier League behind United and Liverpool.

United’s Deals

Chelsea is in talks to leave Stamford Bridge and build a 60,000-seat stadium about half a mile away in west London, the Guardian reported late yesterday, citing a person close to the negotiations it didn’t identify. A new stadium wouldn’t be ready until 2015, the newspaper added.

Manchester United’s commercial team has signed deals with companies from across the globe as part a worldwide sales plan adopted two years ago. The club’s appeal to Asian fans is an attraction to sponsors that aren’t based in the region.

LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA’s watch brand Hublot, which last year signed up as United’s “official timekeeping partner,” said it’s enjoyed sales growth in China because of its relationship with the Old Trafford-based team.

Hublot Chief Executive Officer Jean-Claude Biver said the relationship compared favorably with the association between supermodel Cindy Crawford and Swatch Group AG’s Omega brand.

“I used to go to Asia with Cindy Crawford when I was on the board of Omega,” he said. “We didn’t have more people shouting around us when I was with Cindy than when I was with Wayne Rooney. So suddenly I realized that Manchester United is a phenomenal ambassador for the Chinese.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Tariq Panja in London at tpanja@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christopher Elser at celser@bloomberg.net.

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