Cambodian Premier League (CPL) led by former FC Barcelona employee Satoshi Saito will aim to raise $3 million in sponsorship to improve the quality and also maximize the financial model of the sport in Cambodia.
Cambodia Investment Review spoke to Satoshi Saito CEO of the CPL about his business and investment vision for the league.
What is the current financial situation for Cambodian football?
The last incarnation of the top-flight in Cambodia was the Metfone C-League, which was established in 2005.
During its 17 seasons, the league helped transition the country from a state-planned and Soviet-style league to a semi-professional/professional setup featuring a mixture of state-run teams, such as the National Police FC and Électricité du Cambodge FC to big-spending private entities Phnom Penh Crown and Visakha FC.
The era also saw the entry of big business into the sport, with companies such as Naga world having their own club and Prince, SMART and Cambodian Airways to name but a few either sponsoring stadiums or having some kind of ownership in clubs.
While the C-League undoubtedly improved both quality and finances of clubs, the league was operating on a budget of around $500,000 a year as of 2021, largely generated by sponsorship.
Working on such a small budget meant no profitability and very little money going back to clubs and their investors, a primary reason for the introduction of the CPL.
What is the Cambodian Premier League?
Thus, the CPL was formed as a private entity to take over the day-to-day running of the sport away from the Cambodian National Competitions Committee, a quasi-government organization under the Football Federation of Cambodia (FFC).
In this respect, Cambodia is following on from the business model of many other countries, such as Japan, Singapore and even England in creating a Premier league in control of its own finances marketing and perhaps most importantly controlling its own TV deals.
“For most countries, the selling of TV rights is a huge source of income for leagues around the world, this is not currently the situation in Cambodia, but if we can improve the product then we feel we have something that is more sellable to broadcasters” league CEO Satoshi told Cambodia Investment Review.
And the CEO certainly knows what he is talking about coming from both a rich business and football background. Born in Japan he initially had a career in finance before studying in Spain, which eventually lead to an internship, before full-time employment with Catalan soccer giants FC Barcelona as part of their marketing department.
Speaking about this experience he stated “I was initially working at Barcelona in the early 2000s when European teams realized the potential of the Asian market.
This eventually led me to work for the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) in which capacity I was able to help to develop the leagues of a number of emerging countries”.
Changes since announced have included that the league will now be split into two tiers, with 8 in the top and 12 in the second divisions, in comparison to a single league of 13 in 2021.
Currently, it is planned that the top 8 clubs from 2021 will make up the CPL, with the second-tier clubs making up the other 5, plus regional clubs who are being asked to apply to join.
One of the biggest regulatory changes his that clubs will have to go through a licensing procedure in order to qualify to play in the top-flight, with certain criteria needing to be met.
This according to Satoshi would be done as follows “Clubs will need to reach a basic score of 70, which is judged on various criteria, such as legal status, financial solvency, infrastructure, as well as the quality of stadium”.
Cambodian stadiums currently lack sufficient floodlights, which means many games have to be played in the blistering mid-day heat, something Satoshi acknowledged may well be a future prerequisite for acquiring a license.
Currently, top-flight clubs work on budgets of around $600,000 a year, although this varies greatly depending on the size of the club. Installing floodlights in stadiums can cost anywhere from $200-500,000.
How does the Cambodian Premier League plan to raise more money?
While the league ran on a budget of just half a million last year Satoshi is confident of raising this to as much as $3 million per annum, stating “We are currently looking for a main sponsor for the league, which will be priced at $2 million, with three other tiers of sponsorship costing $500k, $200k, and $100k, with various levels of exposure for each price”.
And while this might seem like a lot of money it is estimated that up to 13 million people watched matches in the C-League last year, with up to 500,000 viewing each weekly round of matches.
This was in addition to those who went to watch the matches live, with the big clubs getting up to 5000 fans per game. It costs around $3 per ticket to watch matches, a source of revenue that was severely diminished during the closed stadiums of Covid-19.
“While there is no exact figure if we could get the income to around the 3 million mark, it would mean much more money going back into the clubs, and thus higher salaries and better players coming into the league”.
According to multiple sources salaries for players in Cambodia range from as little as $200 a month for a young Khmer player to $6000 a month for a marquee foreign star at a top club.
Sponsorship for the new licensing system would also offer business opportunities for those wishing to own their own clubs, with Satoshi adding “All clubs have to be private entities, which means there are lots of opportunities for business people to either convert current state-owned clubs, or start their own clubs. Providing they meet the licensing criteria they can be part of the league. By 2030 we want to have clubs representing every province in Cambodia”.
So conservatively speaking starting a club in Cambodia could cost as little as a million dollars, after floodlights and other essentials are taken into consideration.
Quite how economically viable the new league will become is yet to be seen, but with grand plans and an experienced professional driving the ship, the future certainly looks optimistic.