From EPL with love

Clubs taking overseas outreach seriously, with Singapore enjoying particularly close relationship.

From being featured in matchday programmes to a personalised video wishing the nation a happy birthday, English Premier League clubs are going on a charm offensive to win over fans in Singapore.

On Aug 9, Chelsea midfielder Andre Schuerrle wished Singapore a happy birthday in a video posted on the club's Facebook page.

Four days later, it was London rivals Arsenal's turn to show their support to a fan here when manager Arsene Wenger sent a letter to navy serviceman Jason Chee, who lost his limbs in a work accident in 2012.

Both gestures went viral. The Schuerrle video has, so far, garnered 3,761 likes and 1,119 shares on Facebook while wire agency AFP and several news outlets ran stories on the letter to Chee.

Both efforts follow a trend of EPL clubs increasingly casting their eyes on football-crazy Singapore.

The show of respect is perhaps unsurprising given the Republic has helped boost the coffers of England's top tier, which sold its TV rights for a record £5.5 billion (S$11.4 billion) for the period between 2013 and 2016.

More than £2 billion of that cash came from overseas rights, with £650 million alone being paid between Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and Hong Kong.

That windfall is distributed equally between all 20 clubs with each reaping £32 million a season from overseas television rights.

Last year, a survey conducted by ST's EPL microsite saw Liverpool emerge as the most popular club in Singapore, a result that was not lost on the Merseyside team.

Liverpool's head of international digital development, Paul Rogers, said: "We took great pride from the results of The Straits Times survey that confirmed LFC as Singapore's most supported club.

"It means a lot to everyone at the club to know that, on the other side of the world, fans in Singapore really feel part of the Liverpool FC family."

He added that the club also hope to extend their reach into the country with a new online platform in the next few months.

Eric Ong, president of the official Arsenal supporters club in Singapore, noted that engagements with the club had increased over the years, helped in part by the proliferation of social media.

"We are regularly in touch with the club and have been featured in the match programme's Club Culture section on several occasions.

"When we celebrated our fifth anniversary, Jack Wilshere actually tweeted to congratulate us.

"We were also the only country in Asia to have an ex-player (Sol Campbell) visit when the new Arsenal jersey was launched last month," he said.

In response to queries from The Sunday Times, a Chelsea spokesman said the Schuerrle video was part of efforts to recognise fans in Singapore, adding that this was the first time they had wished a country happy birthday.

The Blues also have an exclusive monthly tie-up with ST, which offers fans here a sneak preview of articles in the Chelsea magazine.

Adrian New, managing director, Chelsea FC Asia Pacific, said: "These are part of a long line of activities that the club undertakes all year round for our supporters.

"You can definitely expect to see us continuing to do as we have done to engage with our fans in Singapore as well as everywhere else in the world."

Burnley co-chairman John Banaszkiewicz is yet another member of the EPL fraternity eyeing more fans and sponsors in Singapore.

He said he was encouraged by the passion here for football, noting the 5,196-strong crowd that turned up at the Jalan Besar Stadium in 2010 to watch the Clarets beat a Singapore Selection side 1-0, even though the club had just been relegated from the top flight.

The Englishman, who understands that clubs must first achieve success on the pitch to break through as a major attraction overseas, noted: "It's difficult to promote Burnley here.

"But we hope a win or two against the big teams will put us on the world map."

With the new 55,000-seat National Stadium open for business, Ong, a communications manager, hopes that means the Gunners can play a friendly here.

He said: "When we hosted Arsenal's former chief commercial officer Tom Fox in 2012, he was aware that our new stadium would be ready soon, and said it was definitely a possibility."

One biennial tournament - Barclays Asia Trophy - had been held in Bangkok, Beijing, Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong previously, with last year's event featuring Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Sunderland.

"The Barclays Asia Trophy could come to Singapore next year so, hopefully, that would bring Arsenal here."

This article was first published on Aug 24, 2014.
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