Asian Cup must move beyond Australia's soccer silo: Michael Brown

Michael Brown knows the success or otherwise of January`s Asian Cup rests on one thing. Getting Australian backsides on stadium seats.

Asian Cup must move beyond Australia's soccer silo: Michael Brown

Sydney: Michael Brown knows the success or otherwise of January`s Asian Cup rests on one thing. Getting Australian backsides on stadium seats.

Selling tickets for Uzbekistan-Saudi Arabia and Qatar-Bahrain soccer matches to Australian sports fans during the country`s long, hot summer - long the preserve of cricket and tennis - is not a task many would envy.

Local organising committee chief Brown, though, is the sort of career sports administrator that has given Australia a worldwide reputation for impeccable organisation of major sporting events that goes back to the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

Throw him a potential problem and he`ll chuck back another two before easing the conversation round to his vision for what the tournament can achieve for the world game in a country where it has often struggled for attention.

Brown knows he cannot rely solely on what he calls the "football family" to populate the stadiums so needs to get the word out well beyond the six percent of the population who were aware of the tournament when he took on the job.

"We need to get the average Aussie sports supporter to understand what the event is beyond the involvement of the Socceroos," Brown told Reuters in an interview in his office in Sydney.

"We want the event understood and embraced by the broader sports and business community and that is going to be shown mainly by bums on seats.

"Even today, in a sports mad environment, you`re fighting for space.

"We`ve got some challenging games, we`ve got 10 Arabic countries coming and obviously not a lot of those are well-known here.

"But if I can see people coming to games - it`s one of many, many measures - that will be the most gratifying thing to me."

Brown`s "budget" target for ticket sales is 355,000 over five venues in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra and Newcastle, which would bring in A$14.5 million (13.31 million US dollar).

With more than a third of that target already achieved by mid-August, however, he is hoping they can sell up to half a million tickets and net A$20 million.

There was a spike in ticket sales when Australia, despite losing all three of their matches, emerged with credit from the World Cup and Brown knows the success of the Socceroos, runners up to Japan three years ago in Qatar, is also crucial.

"You look at any sporting event and the home team doing well is really, really important," Brown said.

"But we`re taking a view that we`re putting on a competition for 16 teams. We`d love the Socceroos to do well because that will help us.

"It`s critically important to ticket sales, I`d be silly to think otherwise, but you also want someone from outside.

"Having said that, we`d love to see a Japan-Australia final."

Entrusted with A$62 million of taxpayers` money for a total operating budget of around A$82 million, the success of the Asian Cup will not be just about delivering a dividend for football.

MAJOR PLANK

Driving tourism, promoting trade and investment - China, Japan and South Korea are among Australia`s top trading partners - as well as engaging the millions of Australians of Asian origin are among the other goals.

The latter factor is a major plank of organisers` strategy with ambassadors appointed in multi-cultural communities around the host cities aiming to tap a passion for football many of them brought from their countries of origin.

Other initiatives include Asian Cup educational programmes at primary schools, "adopt a team" projects, as well as ticket packages which could see a family of four get into a game for as little as A$40.

A major marketing campaign will kick off in mid-October aimed squarely at the more general sports fan.

"Our message will be that world class events don`t come past your door that often so don`t miss out," he said.

"For people of my vintage, nobody realised how good the 2000 Olympics were going to be until we went along and saw that smile, that happiness, that enjoyment that only sport can bring.

"That`s what we want to achieve."

Although Brown`s career prior to heading the Asian Cup was in Australian Rules and then over a decade at Cricket Australia, his footballing roots go back to Birmingham, England in the 1960s before he moved to Australia with his family.

"The last match I saw before we emigrated in 1967 was when my dad took me to see Birmingham City against Middlesbrough and we won 6-1," he recalled.

"It`s great to come back to a game that is the next big thing."

The feeling that soccer is the coming sport in Australia after so long lagging behind the other football codes has been fuelled by the popularity of the Socceroos, huge crowds for the visits of Manchester United and Liverpool last year and the burgeoning A-League.A successful Asian Cup would accelerate that upward trajectory, Brown believes, and in 20 to 30 years to come could be seen as a defining moment for the sport.

"The critical thing at the end of the day is what legacy have we left for the game," he said.

"We need to make sure there are tangible benefits for soccer that leave a long term benefits for the game.

"I want the game to go forward, this is a great benchmark to say it`s come of age."

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