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Korean behind the purchase of Belgian soccer team

Publication Date : 19-08-2014


When Shim Chan-koo started his company in 2000, he never knew his company would grow this big.

Now sports have become the life’s work of the 43-year-old CEO of Sportizen, and his company is the oldest and one of the largest sports marketing firms in Korea.

He is even dubbed the Jerry Maguire of Korea for thriving in an area where people thought it was impossible to succeed. Shim recently acquired Belgian soccer club, AFC Tubize, blazing a trail in the Korean sports marketing industry.

The purchase of the second-division Belgian club is the first takeover of an international football club by a Korean firm.

Nevertheless, he repeated that there was still a lot to do during an interview with The Korea Herald on Thursday.

“It all began around 2007,” said Shim. “That was the time when the company was finally able to stabilise. It was not too long until I was able to pay my employees their proper wages.”

“When that was resolved, I started to envision the company’s vision and future, and what needed to be done in Korea’s sports industry.”

He added that the firm expanded its size and influence in the golf sector.

“The company currently has about 25 to 30 players under its management. But as we advanced further, not only was the growth of the company limited, but the players were also facing barriers to their career growth. So we needed a platform where both can grow.”

In line with the blueprint for the firm, the company acquired the Belgian team early this month. But the decision did not come easily. He did heavy research before choosing to take the plunge.

Some local critics questioned the acquisition, speculating that Shim was doing it to make money through transfer fees. In response, he outlined the three defining goals of the purchase.

“First, I hoped that AFC Tubize would become a platform for young, skillful Korean players to enter the European stage.”

He added that while there were many good players, they did not have much opportunity to advance overseas.

“Only those who appear in international football tournaments such as the World Cup get that chance. East Asia and Europe are far from each other, and the window of opportunity is narrow.”

The second reason involves the sponsors of the football club.

“Companies can deliver their stories out to Europe by being part of the club’s story.”

The most important aspect of sports marketing was storytelling, he said.

“You have to give people a reason to care about these players and the team,” he said. “The companies who will sponsor the team can be part of that story and create a buzz with them.”

“Last, for Sportizen, I wanted to create a new business model in the sports industry.”

Other reasons why the firm chose the Belgian football club include its geographical location near the center of Europe, the multicultural environment and the Belgian leagues lenient rules on the number of foreign players.

But most of all, “it was the people,” according to Shim.

“We decided to maintain the team’s player and coaching rosters. A few of the management staff changed, but most remained at the club.”

“For these staff members, the football club is where their dreams lie. There is no need to replace great people who are willing to work for the pure passion and love for the team.”

The previous owner of the club, Raymond Langendries, is a well-respected figure in Belgium for his political career as minister of state.

“We talked for a very long time and found that we share a similar philosophy to develop this club and take it to the next level. In doing that, forming a strong partnership with the country, the staff and the players was essential. It is not all about the money.”

“Our ties are based on soccer, but as we learned in history, soccer is just more than a sport. Soccer is often likened to war. Through soccer, sentiments are exchanged and it can become a tool for cooperation and can halt conflicts.”

He believes that the soccer club is only the beginning of sports diplomacy with Belgium and other countries around the world, as he plans to take part in cultural festivals and form stronger alliances between the countries.

“My role was to lay a foundation and get people behind the vision. I basically jumped off the cliff without a parachute, and there is still a lot to do. This is all very exciting, but it is only the beginning,” he said.

“A lot of help is needed from different companies, the government and the people.”


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