Asia has plenty of ownership models for Mariners to study

Owners in football come and go but it is always a concern when one says they can’t continue any more, as Central Coast Mariners fans are finding out.

Central Coast Mariners coach Alen Stajcic and Josh Nisbet

Central Coast Mariners coach Alen Stajcic and Josh Nisbet Source: Getty Images

Being put up for sale - formally at least, as feelers are usually put out well before - is not a nice position for supporters to be in.

There are many examples in Asia, all with pros and cons, that can offer some guidance on how things can work, and sometimes not.

The Corporate Model

Originated in Japan, copied in South Korea and then refined in China, the model of a big business owning a team has been an important part of football history in Asia, especially towards the east. 

The likes of Mitsubishi and Nissan have played a big part in the development of Japanese football - even if the J.League has tried to move away from that model.

Samsung and Hyundai are just two of Korea’s conglomerates that back (usually) successful teams such as Suwon and Jeonbuk, while Chinese giants like Evergrande and SIPG bankroll the two teams that have won every title for the past nine years in the Middle Kingdom. 

Pros and Cons: Can provide stability and continuity though clubs are subject to economic downturns that affect parent companies (a scandal involving Chinese health product company Quanjian in 2019 eventually sent the club it owned into bankruptcy). Can, though it does not need to, lead to clubs being lazy when it comes to community and fan engagement as the bills are always covered.

The City/State Model:

Especially common in South Korea and Malaysia, this is where the local metropolitan area or the state/province operates the club.

There are possibilities in this model and often in the early days - as with Incheon United and Daejeon Citizen in Korea - it helped with fan engagement as there were attempts to build local pride in the clubs. 

In Malaysia, many teams are run by states and they all have long histories and some have loyal fanbases.

There have been moves again to edge towards a privatised model but it has been proved more difficult than many thought.

Pros and Cons: Done well, it can foster local pride and the club can act as the focal point for sport in the region and can help develop and push the game further. Local governments can be adept at bringing in local businesses and ensuring that the whole city or state work together with the club. 

It is open to problems: Korean teams have often found that a change in Mayor can be an issue and when politicians get involved in running teams, politics get involved. Also, locals can complain about the cost when times are tight, especially when fans want new signings.

Fan-owned Model

This is still not a widespread model in Asia but there have been pockets of mixed success over the years. 

In South Korea, Bucheon FC were started by fans after SK Conglomerate moved their team overnight to the island of Jeju.

In Indonesia, Borneo FC were established by dissatisfied fans.

Yokohama FC are the best known however, set up by fans who wanted no part of a proposed merger in the nineties that produced the more successful and better-funded Yokohama F. Marinos. 

They have spent all but two of their seasons in the second tier, but the second of those is ongoing as Kazu Miura and Shunsuke Nakamura try to preserve the team’s status in the top flight.

Pros and Cons: This model can be attractive to potential sponsors and, when done well, and with luck, can engender real pride and commitment.

Obviously finances are an issue when wanting to get started, become established and compete.

What can also be more difficult than securing the first stage of funding is to persuade fans to keep shelling out after the initial buzz of investment has worn off.

Big Man Model

This can be the luck of the draw.

When the Crown Prince of Johor, Ismail Sultan Ibrahim, got involved with the underachieving Johor FC, he turned the club around and they are now dominant in Malaysia and pre-eminent in Southeast Asia.

Their regional rivals are Buriram United, a Thai powerhouse created by Newin Chidchob, an influential political figure.

There are numerous examples in West Asia of Sheikhs owning football teams and in India, Bollywood stars and cricket legends have become involved in owning Indian Super League teams.

Pros and Cons: If the leader is a person of vision and patience and is involved for the right reasons, then it can be an effective method. When the leader isn’t, it usually isn’t.


Then there are European teams owning or taking stakes in Asian sides such as the City Football Group with Melbourne Heart (now City) and Yokohama F. Marinos.

Then there was Atletico Madrid part-owning Kolkata club ATK for a while.

Then there are a few clubs who have an eye on helping facilitate trade and business relationships between different parts of the world such as UAE’s Al Sahel.

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5 min read
Published 4 August 2020 at 7:33pm
By John Duerden