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PPFL. -Photo by White Star/Stephan Andrew

KARACHI: The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) wants the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) to make the country’s Premier League more marketable.

A three-member AFC delegation was in Pakistan this week, holding multiple meetings to review the marketing performance of the Pakistan Premier Football League (PPFL).

“They proposed several recommendations to make the PPFL a more marketable event,” PFF secretary Col Ahmed Yar Khan Lodhi told Dawn on Thursday.

“They have asked us to conduct a survey and themselves looked into the current situation while asking us to further strengthen our marketing department.”

However, making the PPFL more marketable would require an intense restructuring of the league.

Last year, a delegation from world football governing body FIFA also proposed a revamp of the current league system in the country.

With the PFF low on budget, 240 matches of the PPFL are crammed into just five months with teams getting little time to rest in between matches.

It has hampered its marketability by reducing the quality of football on offer.

“They [AFC] have asked us to restructure the league so as to make it more marketable as according to them, the teams should be more competitive,” Lodhi informed.

The league structure, though, is hampering the teams’ competitiveness.

“The league runs for a very short time in which we don’t see that high a standard of football as the teams have little space between games and there are numerous injuries,” said Tariq Lutfi, the manager of current champions Khan Research Laboratories.

His counterparts and rivals agree.

“It is a very demanding league,” the sports head of last season’s runners-up Karachi Electric Supply Company, Zabe Khan, said earlier this year. “We need a lot of bench strength to compete and show optimal performances throughout the season.”

But Lodhi reckons a longer duration of the league would require more money — which isn’t coming as much as to the PFF’s liking.

“We’re not seeing a lot of money — or investors — coming into the league at this point in time,” lamented Lodhi. “There is no sponsorship deal for the PFFL or for the PFF Challenge Cup.”

Money and investors would come to the PFFL only if it is pulling in the crowds.

A mere hundred spectators turn up for an average PPFL match in Karachi despite football now rivaling cricket in terms of television viewer-ship in the country.

But it is international and European football which attracts the country’s football-loving population.

The situation, though, is a lot better in Balochistan where thousands turn up to witness a PPFL game. Despite that, the PFFL does not enjoy television coverage.

“TV coverage is essential in increasing the PPFL’s marketability,” Lodhi insisted. “And the delegation has proposed to us to hold matches in centres in Karachi and other areas that pull crowds.”

Emerging football leagues world over are looking at various ways to pull crowds. And one of them is by securing foreign players.

Australia’s A-league is reaping the benefits of signing star players nearing the end of their careers to promote their domestic competition.

The arrival of Italian legend Alessandro Del Piero to Sydney FC last year generated global interest and brought with it TV rights.

Similarly, Major League Soccer (MLS) of the United States got a major shot in the arm when English superstar David Beckham crossed the Atlantic to join LA Galaxy in 2008.

More closer to Pakistan, the influx of foreign players like Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka had boosted the Chinese Super League (CSL) despite it being tarnished by a series of match-fixing scandals in recent years.

And last month, Beckham arrived in China in an ambassadorial role to promote youth programme for the CSL and boost its appeal.

In 2011, Indian football suffered a body blow when its plan for a franchise-based IPL-style football league, featuring semi-retired football stars like Italy’s Fabio Cannavaro and Frenchman Robert Pires, collapsed.

But still, their I-league has a number of low-profile foreign footballers.

Africans, especially Nigerians, make up the majority of imports in the I-League along with a few Brazilians and the Indians believe foreign players are essential for the development of sport and sustaining a TV viewership.

There has been talk of foreign players being inducted into the PPFL and although the PFF would not offer financial support, teams in the country are willing to splash the cash for foreign recruits.

Although they won’t be able to bring in the likes of Del Piero, Drogba or Beckham, even second-grade Brazilian players might help.

“I’m looking at signing up a couple of Brazilians for the next season,” KESC coach Hasan Baloch told Dawn. “That would not only help our team become technically better but also improve the standard of football in the league.”

It is a view echoed by Lutfi. “If individual departments start signing some good foreign players, it would set a good precedent and would help make the PPFL a more marketable commodity,” he said.


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