The former vice-chairman of the Pro League Committee says the worldwide exposure the UAE gained by the presence of big names such as Asamoah Gyan and Diego Maradona last season has been of huge benefit to football in the country.
And Abdullah Nasser Al Junaibi says the committee is hoping to take the momentum generated by such signing into the new season.
The UAE Pro League has aspirations to become one of the top leagues in Asia alongside Japan, South Korea, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Yousuf Al Serkal, the chief of the UAE FA, stated that as one of his goals following his election in May and, together with the PLC, he has been drawing up plans to get there in five years.
Many observers have questioned the direction in which the league is moving, spending millions on star signings when the stadiums are poorly attended at most games.
Al Junaibi, however, argues the presence of big name players helps attract more fans to matches.
"The last season was exceptional with the presence of such high profile and popular players Gyan, Luca Toni, David Trezeguet, etc and also coaches like Diego Maradona," the vice-chairman said. "They have undoubtedly brought international focus to the league."
Locally, Al Junaibi expects the clubs to do more to attract fans, saying they need to "promote their stars" and "offer an exciting environment" for fans to come to the stadium and enjoy the experience "through different activities".
But he refuted suggestions that the Pro League was signing internationally known players on behalf of the clubs to promote the league around the world.
"Our product is the league and, of course, hiring big names promotes it, especially on the media side, locally, regionally and also on the international level," he said. "But the PLC is not involved in the choices that clubs make. The clubs also benefit from having stars in their teams and they can generate income through sponsorship."
The Pro League recently conducted a study to find out people's opinion about the league. The responses were divided into three categories: those who already attend games, those who just watch the matches on television and those who do not go to the games or watch them on TV.
Many in the last category had never heard about the league and others were under the misconception the league is only for locals.
A possible solution could be for all matches to be televised with an optional English-language commentary to attract the expatriates.
Since the start of the 2010/11 season at least one game each round is broadcast in English, but to do the same for every game would present a huge logistical challenge, according to Al Junaibi. "At this stage, we cannot have English commentary for all matches," he said. "… but we are planning to have a weekly TV magazine show in English to talk about the league."
The PLC also has plans for a marketing campaign and they will be working closely with the clubs to monitor the campaigns.
"We all have to play our roles in taking the league to a higher level," Al Junaibi said. "The PLC and the clubs have a responsibility towards that. It is also important for the PLC to set an example and teach the clubs about how to organise initiatives, such as the Match of The Week.
"In regards to the PLC, there are many marketing initiatives that we are looking to launch in this upcoming season."
The Match Of The Week project was launched last season to attract families and female fans, with "Fan Zone" activities.
"From a league point of view, it is important to improve the quality of our stadiums," Al Junaibi said. "Therefore, we have to work alongside the football companies and encourage them to undertake the necessary renovations and reach the standards that can meet the modern demands of the game."
The new season will have its own challenges as the league has been expanded from 12 teams to 14.
"The teams have to get used to this calendar," Al Junaibi said. "We believe the calendar is reasonable, despite increasing the number of teams in the league, compared to other leagues in the region."
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