Football as it stands today represents one of the most vibrant, sociologically enlightening realms of globalisation.
The beautiful game has realised the potential of “glocalisation”, which can be observed on a daily basis, from players to sponsors and from owners to local affiliations.
The GCC has a significant part in it. With various clubs taking annual trips to the region, be it to gratify sponsor obligations, renew their association with the region or simply to relax with warm-weather training sessions, the trend is only growing.
The region’s hospitality and leisure industries are witnessing benefits of this recent development. Much of it revolves around the global brand awareness of the host country, which trickles down to the various entities involved.
Hotels in the UAE generally do well during the winter months, according to data collected by STR Global, and they experienced a 2.9 per cent increase in occupancy to 76.3 per cent last December compared with the same period in 2012, suggesting an optimistic hospitality industry.
However, the presence of international clubs does not in itself provide a huge boost to a hotel’s occupancy rates.
The Yas Viceroy in Abu Dhabi hosted the English Premier League club Newcastle United a few weeks ago. But while that was welcomed by the hotel, the team’s arrival had a muted effect on occupancy levels, said Julie Audette, the director of public relations at the Yas Viceroy.
“We are proud and were delighted to have welcomed the Newcastle United Football Club at Yas Viceroy,” she said.
“But their presence didn’t majorly affect our occupancy rate at Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi, as we have 499 rooms.
“Our general occupancy rate for January has increased by 20.3 percentage points from 53.8 per cent occupancy last year in January to 74.1 for the same month this year.”
But the presence of a top European club can provide a boost in other ways.
Qatar’s Aspire Zone, a sumptuous sports complex in Doha, hosted the French giants Paris Saint-Germain during their five-day training camp in the country recently. Ivan Bravo, the director general of Qatar’s Aspire Academy, said such events strengthen relationships with top clubs and enhance the work they do with the academy’s sports students.
“We receive multiple requests for winter camps at Aspire and we try to be selective about the teams we invite,” says Mr Bravo.
“Our philosophy is to bring only top clubs and those that can provide a meaningful relationship for the Academy through exchanges. For example, last year one of our U21 national team goalkeepers trained with Schalke 04’s first-team goalkeepers.”
As international clubs increase their presences in the region as they try to develop new markets, the benefit for the host countries is perhaps more long-term.
“We also understand these clubs are trying to grow their fan base and business opportunities in the region, so we’re happy to provide a home for them in the Middle East and become ambassadors of their brand,” said Mr Bravo.
Moreover, these clubs can act as goodwill ambassadors for the countries they choose to visit. In the case of the Premier League, the UAE has a strong association with football in Britain and that is reflected in the growing number of tourists who visit games in the United Kingdom.
According to VisitBritain, the UK’s tourism development agency, about 241,000 visitors arrived from the UAE in 2011, spending close to £254 million (Dh1.56 billion) during their stay.
Of those visitors, about 14,000 went to a live sports event at a stadium, generating related spending of almost £20m. VisitBritain said the UK ranked as the second-most visited outbound destination for UAE tourists after Saudi Arabia.
With more travellers from this country visiting the UK, football clubs realise the potential to grow awareness and new revenues in the UAE. More and more clubs are taking the journey southward to capitalise on fan-base growth. Manchester United, West Ham United and Stoke City all arrived in Dubai last week for week-long warm-weather training sessions, taking advantage of the 10-day break in their domestic league fixtures.
And the UAE’s hospitality sector can only benefit, hoteliers say.
“The effect of hosting sports events or welcoming sporting clubs … has direct economic impact related to the teams, possible increased tourist spending by a wide margin and positive benefits – depending on the size of the event.
“For example, if it’s only a training camp, the impact will be less than a major sporting event or multiple-team training programme. As the hotel offering is relatively high in the region, major events will have a stronger impact on the economy than smaller-scale sporting initiatives like welcoming a sports team.
“Still, the PR impact of hosting a team of this calibre is highly positive for the hotel and the host city.”
With Qatar’s hosting the 2022 Fifa World Cup, the region’s attractiveness to big foreign teams will only increase.