Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Asian Fever

(from my Bleachers' Brew column in Business Mirror August 13, 2007)

Asian Fever
by rick olivares

At the corner of Peking and Hankow roads in Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong is the towering four-story adidas store. There’s a massive billboard outside featuring Anfield icons Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, and John Arne Riise that asks, “Are you red enough?” The ground floor lobby is the showroom for new products and in the last few weeks, on prominent display are the 2007-08 season kits of English clubs Liverpool and Chelsea. Also on display are AC Milan, Ajax Amsterdam, Bayern Munich, and Newcastle United among others. Conspicuously missing is Spanish giant Real Madrid with its sponsor’s logo emblazoned in front. According to store employees, the adult sizes sold out almost as soon as they were put on the shelf a few weeks ago. The only available ones are kids’ sizes. But they should re-stock before the season gets underway they assure me.

A young Chinese lad is accompanied by his girlfriend. It’s his birthday and she purchases for him the three different home and away jerseys of Chelsea: the home blue and the road jerseys of white and the new neon yellow with black linings (each jersey costs HK $450). He ditches his office garb for the Chelsea blues; eyes gleaming from the new clothes and his feelings of stronger love for his girlfriend. Aww. L’amour.

At the foot of street leading up to the Ruinas De Sao Paulo in Macau, is a stall that sells knock-off kits of almost every conceivable football club in the world. The stall’s proprietor hardly speaks a word of English but he is able to communicate rather difficultly that the fakes sell like beef jerky (MOP – Macau Patacas -- $45) the hottest thing outside pancakes in this part of the world. Although most Chinese prefer the authentic jerseys, the knocks offs still have a market. His best seller – the Los Angeles Galaxy of the American Major League Soccer whose jerseys were an unknown commodity until it became David Beckham’s new home.

In Queensway in Singapore, it’s the season for the annual trek to this out-of-the-way mall that is a sports fan’s maven. They’ve got kits, kicks, gear, and audio-video stuff to turn your head into mush. The major sports brands of Nike, adidas, Reebok, Umbro, and Puma have long since discovered that subtle changes in the kit’s design such as inscribing the club’s name on the collar or a stitch such as the commemorative embroidery celebrating the 50th anniversary of FC Barcelona's Camp Nou will ensure that their millions of supporters at home and abroad will queue for the new merchandise that is worth billions. Said one executive of a popular sporting brand who refused to be identified, “Even during the off season, you have to look for ways for the fans to part with their cash.”

In Thailand, despite accusations that former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s amassed up to L1 billion, the self-confessed football fan was able to purchase the ownership of Manchester City for L18 million. As for the Thais, a Southeast Asian football power, there’s suddenly an interest in the club that has hovered around an unlucky 13th position in its six years in the Premiership. But whether Thais, angered by Shinawatra’s alleged corruption, will support the team or not, you know they’ll follow the club’s fortunes. More so now that also recently received another dose of publicity (good or bad depending on how people feel about its new manager) when they hired former England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson.

All across Asia, the chain of bookstores like Borders, Dymocks, and Newslink are stocked with as many as 10 different magazines that are dedicated to football. Even music stores like HMV and Hong Kong records make sure that they too have that football presence amidst their music and movie catalogues.

The new football season is a month or so away and while the clubs are on their annual pre-season world tours. Barcelona, featuring its fab four of Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto’o, Lionel Messi, and recent transferee Thierry Henry were in Japan just a few days ago playing the Yokohama Marinos (guess who the home crowd cheered for). One of their last few before repairing to Camp Nou for the preparations for their quest to regain the Spanish La Liga title that arch-rival Real Madrid won on the last playing day of the season.

Manchester United is arguably the most popular football club in the world with an estimated 75 million fans scattered across the globe. An astonishing 41 million of those supporters reside in Asia. Like the British, when the European clubs talk about expansion, it no longer means domestically but globally.

Upon entering the huge Giga Sports store in Pacific Place in Admiralty, Hong Kong, the store’s employees greet you in a novel way of salesmanship, “Hello. You came to the right place. We’ve got the new Manchester United kit (HK $459) and you know it’s going to look great on your person.” Ah, I already have Liverpool’s.

Lest you think that it’s all European clubs that dominate the merchandise market, Japanese star Shunsuke Nakamura’s (of Scottish team Celtic) national jersey competes with Chelsea’s Frank Lampard, Liverpool’s Gerrard, and Man U’s Wayne Rooney for the most saleable jersey.

The biggest sporting spectacle in Asia – the 2008 Beijing Olympics – began its countdown last August 8. As much as Olympic fever has gripped the world’s most populous country and its Special Administrative Regions in Hong Kong and Macau, the beautiful game has once more gripped these places as it has around the region. “Next year will be crazy,” says an employee of the adidas store in Tsim Sha Tsui. “There’s the European Cup and then there’s Beijing. Good for sports fans, right?” Good for the rest of the continent but how about the Philippines?

In the huge Sands casino in Macau, a man in his forties looks to be doing well in a baccarat table. He grins at the dealer, “I got my lucky charm with me.” The dealer looks quizzically back at him.

He says no more and simply smiles. Then I notice he’s wearing a Man U jersey.

No comments:

Post a Comment