Think about it for a second, yeah. On one end of the spectrum, you have Johor DT – a team with exceptional financial stability and one that continues to rewrite Malaysian football history every few weeks or so.
On the other end, you have Kelantan FA (KAFA) – a team that was once widely recognized around the country for its sporting prowess, but one that’s visibly struggling on the business side of things, these days.
They have not paid players for almost three months now, despite KAFA President Tan Sri Annuar Musa’s constant reassurances. It came to a point where even players started going on social media to drop sarcastic remarks against the management. And you can’t blame them either.
On the other hand, they’re also fighting a legal battle with former head coach Steve Darby – to whom they owe approximately RM630,000 after agreeing to mutually terminate his contract in April 2014. Compensations for Azraai Khor Abdullah and Obinna Nwaneri have yet to be settled as well.
But in the midst of the ongoing financial crisis in KAFA, Tan Sri Annuar Musa made a controversial statement during the ‘Himpunan Rakyat Bersatu’ event yesterday. “Being racial is endorsed in Islam as long as you are not cruel towards other people. This rally if you say is racist, yes. What are you scared of?”
I will leave it to the political writers, journos, religious experts and Islamic scholars to logically debunk his statement (not that it hasn’t been done on social media over the last 12 hours or so) so let’s mainly stick to the sporting side of things here.
From the offset, it may just seem like another bigoted, racist statement. But it’s a collection of words that people use to form their impression of TSAM, which has a direct link on how they perceive KAFA as well. Who are these people again? Me, you, and a whole load of individuals within multinational companies and big corporate brands out there.
2016 will be a big year for Malaysian football as the leagues will be privatized, meaning that the teams would also be required to operate as private businesses, with a need to generate profit in order to ensure sustainability. Of course, the process will take place over various stages, so teams will have the opportunity of easing into the thick of things, but like it or not, they will have to start focusing extensively on forming corporate partnerships.
But question mark now lingers on KAFA’s ability to attract big brands, after TSAM’s ‘racist’ remarks on Tuesday. Let’s not even speak about the factual or rhetorical legitimacy of his claims. From a business perspective in itself, it’s a statement that shouldn’t have been made. Leaders of an organization are more often than hold held liable for statements that they make, and it usually brings about a trickle down effect on the organization in itself.
@KeeshSundaresan I tweeted abt this years ago. All parties (FA leadership + Fans) need to portray the right image even on social media.
— Romy Jarr (@romyjarr) September 17, 2015
Getting corporate sponsors isn’t so much about just being partners with them. It’s about showing them that there’s value in local football and there’s value within your football team’s brand. Why would a corporate brand ever consider being associated with an organization that has a racist leader? The team may be strong, they may have a glittering reputation within the local football scene. But the business world is all about perception.
Traditionally, big MNCs have shied away from Malaysian teams due to their inherent lack of professionalism. A recent conversation with PFAM’s CEO Izham Ismail revealed that several Malaysian teams don’t even have a fully functioning media department, for you to engage with instantly. It takes ages to get in touch with some of these teams. FAM Technical Director Fritz Schmid also echoed the exact sentiments: “We’re moving towards privatization, but most of the Malaysian teams don’t even have a basic business structure in place,” he said.
On the other hand, look at JDT. It’s not too difficult to realize why companies are forming a queue to be partners with them. Besides having a reputation for being incredibly professional in Malaysia, and perhaps even South East Asia, TMJ’s ability to steal the moral high ground plays an integral role as well. He’s constantly voicing out opinions on issues related to people on the ground, and he’s created a ‘cult hero-esque’ reputation for himself – precisely the sort of positive connotations that brands would love to associate themselves with.
Fair enough, KAFA are still due receipts from the Malaysia Cup. They will also be generating income from the new TV rights deal, which kicks off next year. Rumours also suggest that they could potentially sell some of their top earning players to lighten the budget.
But to continuously grow as a football club, your revenue graph needs to be constantly on the rise. Empowering a proper youth development system requires significant funding. Boosting the facilities for your players, requires significant funding. Attracting the best players to come and play for your team, requires significant funding as well.
It’s a shame really. For a team that has grown so much over the past few years, seeing them hit the financial doldrums is frustrating. But it’s even more frustrating when the management and leaders within the club, make decisions and release statements, without considering the welfare of their team.
Understanding that it’s already difficult enough to engage corporate stakeholders, TSAM’s statement will make it even harder for KAFA to form corporate connections. Worse still, this will continue to influence people’s perception of the local league – that it’s draconian, it’s immature and it plays host to a pool of insensitive individuals.
That probably sounds over-exaggerated, but you can’t blame them. when the perceived lack of professionalism is constantly validated by individuals who are supposed to be safeguarding and propagating the growth of Malaysian football.