As Indonesians, accessing the official website of the English Premier League (EPL) offers a channel to something interesting. The website has seven language options, one of which is Bahasa Indonesia; thereby demonstrating the importance of Indonesia to the EPL.
It is undeniable that the EPL is one of the most elite football leagues in the world. In terms of spectator numbers, the EPL has always ranked highest. It is estimated that approximately 4.7 billion people watch the English League on television. When it comes to Indonesia, approximately half of its 250 million population watch the league. Of these, 54% watch on TV, while the remainder access matches via the Internet. This means Indonesia has the highest number of English League spectators, based on data released in 2015 by the Global Web Index Report.
Even though it is difficult to determine the precise figure, the number of EPL spectators in Indonesia is growing every year. This is evidenced in the increase in the number of cafes, hotels, and other venues in which fans can watch the league across the country; from big cities such as Jakarta, to a small town in Papua. Moreover, the increase is evidenced by the proliferation of fan communities of English clubs in Indonesia. On social media, for instance, there are several fan communities; including Liverpool Indonesia Fans Club (Liverpool F.C.), Manchester United Fans Club's Indonesia (Manchester United), and Arsenal Indonesia (Arsenal F.C.). Fans of Chelsea F.C. are not left behind, as there are around 11 official Chelsea fan bases across Indonesia, comprising more than 2100 members. It is estimated that the three English clubs with the highest number of fans in Indonesia are Manchester United (25%), Chelsea (23.94%), and Arsenal (18.84%).
The large number of fans should reap benefits for the football clubs. It has become an unwritten custom that they should devote their fanaticism to a club by collecting memorabilia, such as jerseys, shoes, and other related items. Therefore, it can be assumed that the dedicated fans of these clubs in Indonesia should be proportional to the financial benefits scooped by these clubs. Chelsea proved this when the club visited Indonesia in 2013. During the trip, there was a 30-35% increase in sales of Chelsea-themed Adidas products.
Unfortunately, this opportunity has not been seized optimally by the English football clubs. Their visits to Indonesia could be said to be still very low. Besides Chelsea, which visited only once, Liverpool also made a visit in 2013, while Arsenal visited in 1983 and 2013. Worse still, even though the majority of English League fans in Indonesia are devotees of Manchester United, the club has visited the country only once, way back in 1975.
Business ties between the EPL and Indonesia, however, are relatively intense. This is evident in the increasing number of Indonesian firms cooperating with some English football clubs. Manchester United is the pioneer in this regards. In 2006, the Red Devils signed a deal with Bank Danamon, resulting in more than 170 customers traveling to Manchester to watch the match live at Old Trafford. This cooperation further developed with the approval of the Achilles-Corsa, an Indonesian tire company, as one of United's sponsors in 2013.
The Indonesian banking sector is one of the business sectors that often become sponsors of EPL clubs. In 2012, for instance, Bank Negara Indonesia (BNI) was one of Chelsea's sponsors. More recently, Arsenal's brokered a sponsorship deal with Bank Muamalat. Other business sectors are also included. In the 2014-2015 season, Liverpool agreed to embed the logo of Garuda Indonesia, the national air carrier of Indonesia, in the club's training clothes. In the same year, an insurance firm, Jiwasraya, became the sponsor of Manchester City.
The growth in the number of Indonesian companies becoming sponsors of English football clubs is certainly a good sign. Both the companies and the clubs seem to garner benefits from their partnership. The clubs certainly reap a large amount of money from the deals, while the Indonesian companies may be more recognised in the global community.
Several efforts could be exerted by Indonesia and EPL clubs to improve their relationship. Besides increasing visits to Indonesia, the clubs could also boost the number of official club outlets. At present, only Manchester, Liverpool, and Arsenal have opened official merchandise stores; albeit ones that are based online. Arsenal itself is quite aggressive in seizing opportunities in Indonesian markets after signing a deal with Mitra Adi Perkasa in 2015. According to the deal, Arsenal will open at least 56 online stores for Indonesian consumers. While this step should be appreciated, it is also important for the clubs to open official offline outlets in Indonesia. These offline stores could serve as a base from which to improve the sense of community between the club and the fans.
This can be supplemented further by the establishment of official football schools in Indonesia. This has become increasingly attractive for some Indonesians since Chelsea and Liverpool began operating football schools in the country. As the partnership grows, it is hoped that the EPL will also be able to help improve the country's feeble football industry.
Indonesia and the EPL are two important partners that are mutually beneficial in the football industry. Looking to the future, the two will grow even closer given Indonesia's improving economy and the increasing competitiveness of the EPL.
This piece is co-authored with Muhammad Beni Saputra, a postgraduate student at the University of Manchester.