A Swiss-led sports marketing firm is to market and develop China's national football teams for the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the next World Cup in South Africa.
Infront Sports & Media marketing chief, John Kristick, tells swissinfo what the company is doing to help China field world-class teams.
The deal, signed in April, gives Infront exclusive rights to handle all sponsorship marketing (except kit supply), as well as television, new media and image rights.
The agreement extends to Infront playing an active role in the teams' development, along with the Chinese Football Association (CFA). Infront will also appoint experts to provide coaching, to determine nutritional needs, and to advise on player recruitment.
The firm has already formed a joint venture with the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) to re-brand and market the CBA Professional League. Last February, it was appointed by the CBA as the exclusive global marketing partner for the country's national basketball teams until the end of 2008.
swissinfo: Many firms, both Chinese and foreign, have tried to invest in Chinese football. Most have had little success. Why will it be different for you?
John Kristick: That's right. Many of these companies misjudged the market in the past. They assumed that the Chinese sports market was already mature. They saw many Chinese football fans but, in fact, the products and support systems are still not in place.
We are working hard with our Chinese colleagues to improve the product itself and support and service systems. Those earlier investors believed that the product did not matter as long as the demand was there.
swissinfo: For years, China has been trying to build world-class teams, and the CFA has recruited foreign coaches several times in the past. But Chinese football is still not performing very well. What is the main problem?
J.K.: Patience. The Chinese aimed too high. At this stage, there is a still a lack of infrastructure and expertise.
In Europe, we have spent many years developing football to its present level. The Chinese aimed at the highest level immediately – trying to match the level of the major European leagues from the beginning.
How can you achieve good interim results if your aim is to reach the world's highest level right away?
swissinfo: Infront designed a comprehensive technical development plan for the Chinese national teams. Is this plan exclusively for China or has it been implemented in other countries as well?
J.K.: You cannot use exactly the same approach for other markets, like Germany or Brazil [for example]. These are mature markets with a very good football infrastructure.
In China, this plan will be effective and appropriate to the country and we hope to replicate the model for the Chinese Basketball Association.
Our current strategy as a company is to focus on Asia and at this stage the primary focus in Asia is clearly China. China is fundamentally important to us. We will concentrate our resources on projects in China, with the 2008 Olympics as the priority objective for the CFA.
We plan to organise a series of training programmes in the next nine months and we will also be pulling together a series of match fixtures, so that the Chinese team can play against the right opposition and gain experience.
swissinfo: How do you prepare the marketing and technical development of other Chinese national football teams?
J.K.: We analyse their current situation and find out which areas we need to support. For example, we are helping the CFA to develop training programmes and to recruit nutritional, scouting and mental conditioning experts.
For the men's team, women's team and youth teams, our models are long-term. We will also arrange matches between the Chinese teams and European clubs.
swissinfo-interview: Yang Jin
Infront Sports & Media, based in Zug, specialises in the distribution of media rights for leading international sports events, event marketing (sponsorship in particular) and brand development.
Its handles global sales of the broadcast rights to the 2006 World Cup and other FIFA events, as well as the marketing of nine national football associations and many clubs.