x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Brand Beckham has lot to offer UAE

At 37, he is still fit and his appeal would not only draw in crowds at Pro League matches but the Asian region as well.

David Beckham was a hit in Dubai when he played for AC Milan on loab in 2009.
David Beckham was a hit in Dubai when he played for AC Milan on loab in 2009.

Although unlikely, if David Beckham ever doubted his UAE appeal, a short stint in early 2009 provided heavy reassurance.

A loan deal from LA Galaxy to AC Milan prompted a Dubai debut for the eminently marketable midfielder, who used a friendly against Germany's Hamburg to become acquainted with new teammates such as Ronaldinho and Kaka - then recent Fifa World Players of the Year.

Milan have always formed one of football's most revered clubs, typically housing a coterie of the planet's best performers, yet there was little query that night at The Sevens as to who represented the main attraction.

"Of course we have great players like Kaka and Ronaldinho," said 'Milanista', a Dubai-based AC Milan blogger. "But no footballer is as famous as Beckham."

Fans flocked to view the former Manchester United and Real Madrid player at an open training session at Al Nasr's Al Maktoum Stadium, serenading the star with cries of 'we want Beckham' and 'Beckham we love you'.

Additional security was employed for thronged autograph sessions; extra stock of the Italian side's jerseys ordered. The match, despite Beckham's withdrawal at half time, was witnessed in 110 countries.

"He drove interest so much that it contributed to a maximum capacity of 27,000 people," said Donal Kilalea, chief executive of Promoseven, the sports marketing company that hosted the event. "Milan had the best of the world but Beckham was the icing on top.

"Judging by the huge demand and fan support for Beckham, if he did come to the UAE now you'd see attendances go through the roof."

Four years on, Beckham could be soon filling grounds throughout the Emirates.

The Englishman, a free agent following five years with LA Galaxy, is searching for a fresh challenge and Wednesday night's refusal to rule out a switch to Al Jazira has only fuelled rumours Abu Dhabi will supply his latest sanctuary.

The merits of a move are obvious. For Jazira, they obtain a player that may be past his footballing prime, but who, at 37, still excelled in the just-concluded MLS season.

That languid pace is not too dissimilar to its UAE equivalent, although Beckham has always valued greatly physique and fitness, and would no doubt outshine on the pitch the majority of his potential peers.

Paulo Bonamigo, the Jazira coach targeting the league title, would surely welcome the acquisition.

As too would the Pro League. Poor attendance figures are a familiar failing, yet Beckham's presence could finally yield the key to unlock a hugely lucrative expatriate market.

During his time at Galaxy the number of match-day spectators rose to a league average of 18,000, while the cost of a new franchise is now four times greater than on his arrival.

Leading local football analysts here predict Beckham could exceed the exposure generated by Al Wasl's recruitment as coach of Diego Maradona last year.

Statistics compiled by Cicero & Bernay PR and Meltwater media monitoring agency claim Wasl generated 1,300 reports online per month between May 2011 and 2012, compared to 80 per month pre-Maradona. Its value was estimated at Dh270 million.

Granted, Beckham's appeal has dwindled since topping in 2003 and 2004 Google's sport-related searches, but this year he was sandwiched between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, currently the world's best footballers, as the seventh-most searched sports star on Yahoo!'s UK site.

Forbes ranks him 32nd on its list of the world's most powerful celebrities in 2012.

"I'd be very happy to see him play in the Pro League," said Guy Lacombe, the Wasl manager, yesterday.

"Other than being a celebrity there's no doubt he's an exceptional footballer, but what's important is he can add to the sport here in the UAE. It'll be very good for both the Pro League and Jazira."

Jazira, champions in 2010-11, have still to travel to the strongly supported homes of Nasr and Al Ain, but it is Beckham's appearance at Ajman, Baniyas, Al Shabab and Dubai that would surely spike unprecedented interest.

The implications for Beckham would also be far-reaching. 'Brand Beckham' contributed to a net worth recorded this year at US$260 million (Dh955m) by the Sunday Times Rich List.

Sponsorship deals past and present with Pepsi, Calvin Klein, Armani, Adidas, Vodafone, Gillette and EA Sports - all blue-chip companies - suggest that, while he wanes somewhat on the field, off it Beckham remains as bankable as ever.

Having milked markets in America and Europe, the Middle East and the Muslim world constitute relatively new terrain.

If, and it is a considerable 'if', he signs for Jazira, Beckham the brand will not only become more prevalent from Abu Dhabi to Ajman, but through the club's involvement in the Asian Champions League is provided a platform across the region, as he performs from February in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Qatar.

Should Jazira progress from their group, expect Far Eastern cash registers to ring even louder. "Every brand needs to keep itself relevant and the Beckham brand is no different," Andy Milligan, author of Brand It Like Beckham, told the BBC last month.

"He has made very shrewd choices that have created a coherent story: Manchester, Madrid, LA and Milan both in fashion and football terms make narrative sense.

"He endures because he's authentic. You can't fake, force or fudge what he does, the way he does it for the length of time that he's done it."

The UAE, as it proved in 2009, offers the genuine opportunity to continue a narrative straight out of Hollywood.

 

jmcauley@thenational.ae

 

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