Falvo believes Newcastle is the tip of China's A-League investment

The arrival of Martin Lee as owner of the Newcastle Jets has the potential to bring in a new age of Chinese investment in Australian football, according to Football Federation Australia’s head of international affairs, Mark Falvo.


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Lee’s arrival on the A-League scene marks the first sign of Australian investment by China since their governmental decree to develop the sport to the point where they can win the FIFA World Cup by the middle of this century. 

While the A-League has experienced mixed success with foreign owners so far, the FFA is confident that Lee, who reportedly paid $5.5 million to secure the licence, will be the first in a line of Chinese investors keen to spend seriously big dollars on these shores. 

"There's clearly an opportunity there and obviously there's an enormous wave of Chinese capital, specifically in football, that we can tap into," Falvo told The World Game.

"China sees Australia as a mature football market and they know we have something to contribute to their technical advancement as well as the professional and administrative advancement of the game." 

"Obviously Chinese football is booming and the president of the country, Xi Jinping, has said China will be successful in football and will build its sports economy." 

"It’s fantastic that Newcastle is the first stop but the opportunities that will open up across Australia to build bridges to the Chinese football revolution are exceptional." 

Earlier this month, Falvo joined FFA chief executive David Gallop, Jets chief executive Lawrie McKinna and club ambassador Joel Griffiths on a whistle-stop tour of China, where they were feted at press conferences in Beijing and Shenzhen. 

"It was a huge reception with huge local interest. From my time in China, I think Martin is in it for all the right reasons. He's genuinely passionate about the game, wants his club to succeed - although he's acutely aware it's not his club but the community's," Falvo said.

"He wants to connect the team with the Hunter region, which is something we made clear during the negotiation and he certainly understood that. 

"Even from our visit to his headquarters, he proudly displayed the Newcastle colours everywhere and there were screens with stories from NBN running on loop from when he announced the acquisition with David in Newcastle a month or so back." 

Falvo said the new owner would not be a flash-in-the-pan investor, and that he had already demonstrated a long-term enthusiasm for the sport. 

"There's a whole movement now inside Chinese business to support the government’s aim and Martin is one of a number of businessman that has entered into a strategic partnership with the Chinese Football Association," he said.

"He's already bought into the Portuguese Second Division as a sponsor, he's bought into the multinational sports marketing company Infront, he owns Shenzhen Renren and he's now bought the Newcastle Jets. He’s clearly got an enormous appetite for football." 

Australia has long been seen in Asia as not doing enough to integrate itself within the region, but Falvo is hopeful this deal can be the catalyst for genuine, ongoing engagement. 

"I think we are making progress but there's no doubt the Newcastle deal will now create something that can become much deeper," Falvo said.

"Martin said a number of times that he hopes Newcastle will now become the favourite A-League club for one billion-plus people in China. 

"That's a pretty powerful statement to be able to make in terms of commercial and sponsorship opportunities, as well as engaging with multicultural Australia." 

Falvo said he believed that the 2015 AFC Asian Cup - for which he served as chief operating officer - had played a major role in advancing relations between Australia and Asian nations. 

"The Asian Cup showed what can be achieved through football diplomacy. It's something I've personally pursued in my role since coming back to FFA - making sure we don’t lose all the good ground that was made around the Asian Cup and continue to build on it," he said. 

"There's a very positive recall around Asia of last January - the reception the teams received, the level of organisation and perhaps seeing a face of Australia they didn't know, a hugely diverse nation that perhaps reflects the entire Asian region.

"The level of engagement, because of that tournament, has never been higher."

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4 min read
Published 22 July 2016 at 5:42pm
By Sebastian Hassett