The Asian Cup is predicted to deliver a multi-million dirham boost to the UAE’s economy - as well as preparing the country for even bigger sporting bids in the future, top football financing experts have said.
The tournament has been hailed as the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the year’s sporting calendar by organisers, with the newly-expanded format to deliver more matches than ever before.
It will provide a short-term boost to the UAE's economy, raise its profile as a host of large sporting events and invigorate local football culture, Timothy Bridge, director of Deloitte's Sports Business Group, told The National.
"The direct impact will be the most notable," Mr Bridge said, pointing the influx of supporters into the country in the coming weeks.
"They're going to need hotels, they're going to need food, but they're also going to spend money in the Abu Dhabi region," he said, adding that "hosting a tournament such as the Asian Cup provides a platform for the future economic but also wider social impact."
While it is hard to put a specific number of the predicted boost to the UAE's economy, the country's existing tourist infrastructure will pay dividends.
The UAE is "so accessible, its so easy for fans to travel to," Mr Bridges said, adding "the travel is relatively inexpensive and when you arrive, the quality of accommodation, the quality of options that people have are extremely good quality and that becomes an attractive proposition."
Hosting the Asian Cup will improve the UAE's chances of hosting large sporting events, and serve as a useful case study when bidding for major events like the World Cup or Olympics in the future, Mr Bridges said.
Mr Bridges pointed to the under-17 Fifa World Cup, which the UAE hosted in 2013, saying "this is the next step up. It shows that the region is capable of hosting major sporting events and that can only be beneficial in the long term."
Sporting infrastructure upgrades will also improve the UAE's state of preparedness for hosting major tournaments in the future, Mr Bridges said.
A bigger Asian Cup will further maximise the reward from hosting the tournament. This year, the cup will host more teams, playing a greater number of games over a longer period of time.
There will be 24 nations competing over the next four weeks, up from 16 four years ago, bringing new, large audiences into the tournament.
"The fact that India has been able to qualify for the Asian Cup this time around is significant for many reasons, it is one of the largest populations in the world, so then the profile of the tournament and the number of eyeballs watching the tournament are going to be significantly increased," Mr Bridges said, adding that it will also develop Indian football.
It is hoped that large expatriate populations, from countries such as India, the Philippines, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen will boost attendances at games, in a tournament that has in the past been criticised for the low numbers it has attracted for some matches.
The smaller 2015 tournament, held in Australia, boosted the country’s economy by 81 million Australian dollars (Dh206m), analysis found. Then, a quarter of games sold out with more than 650,000 tickets sold.
Research carried out by research firm EY Sweeney found that AUS$81 million total direct expenditure nationally was attributed to the Asian Cup, generating a boost of $7.3 million to Australian’s GDP. This month’s tournament is taking place over 27 days, rather than 22 days in 2015, to accommodate 51 matches, up from 32.
Aref Al Awani, tournament director of the local organising committee, has said the expanded format is a “big advantage”.
“This makes us really optimistic that we will have high attendances,” he said in the summer.
"We are talking about the large fan base of India, the Philippines and Thailand. Most of the teams that are going to be here have fans living in the UAE.
“Besides that, many are expected to come from the East, when it will be the winter break there, so we’re expecting a lot to travel during this period. We think that everything is on our side.”
As well as travelling fans, finding accommodation for 24 squads of 23 players, as well as sizable contingents of coaching and support staff, has provided a welcome boost for UAE hotels in what is usually a quiet period following Christmas and New Year. Teams have been arriving in the UAE over the course of the past week.
It is hoped that neutrals will also take the opportunity to attend matches, with tickets starting at Dh25 for group games and stars such as Son Heung-Min, the Tottenham Hotspur and South Korea forward, on show.
Matches will take place in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah and Al Ain. Several of the eight venues have been improved to get them ready for the tournament, which has also created jobs in the run-up to the kick off.
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