How Sime Darby FC Can Become Awesome in 1,2,3

1. Grab the niche

If there is one flaw in Sime Darby Football Club’s (SDFC) operating model, it has to be the fact that the club has an almost non-existent support. Instead of fans paying to watch SDFC play, SDFC ‘paid the fans’ by handing out free match tickets.

If SDFC wants to be successful, it must accept that success in football can be measured by two things: cup, and clout. With money, you can win cups. But without clout, the win will feel hollow and empty, as empty as the cup itself. Not many people will be appreciating and validating the victory. Validation – is the keyword, as what Oprah pointed out:

“I’ve talked to 30,000 people on this show and they all wanted validation. Everybody wants to know, ‘Do you see me? Do you hear me? Does what I say mean anything?

A victory without validation is similar to a victory in Football Manager. It feels artificial.

“They all wanted validation.” – Oprah Winfrey

There is no clearer example on this than MBPJ FC’s (formerly known as MPPJ FC) hero-to-zero run in the domestic football scene. While SDFC failed at being the first club-side to win the FA Cup, MBPJ FC had already succeeded at being the first ever club-side to win the biggest prize in Malaysian football and the oldest football competition in the whole of Asia: the Malaysia Cup.

However, with no substantial fan base to fall back on, MBPJ quickly found itself deep in the red, and just three years after the big win, it became defunct.

So how can SDFC avoid being the ‘next MBPJ’? Where can SDFC find the support it needs?

A cup win without validation is like a cup win in Football Manager. It feels artificial.

Apart from the workers of the plantation estates, power plants, offices, industrial machinery workshops and car dealerships, SDFC can actually look to an untapped resource of football fan base richness.

This untapped resource is what I call the ‘uprooted’: they are football enthusiasts – they love football, spend money on football, know about football, sometimes play football, and they are not too shy to show their support for football in public places. But there is one fundamental flaw in their enthusiasm for football: the football teams that they support are based thousands of miles away from Malaysia.

In fact, the clubs that they support might not even know that they existed, what more the locals where the clubs are based.

These lots, don’t support local football.

The main cause for this is that they don’t have roots attached to the local football scene. They were either born in Kuala Lumpur where traditional local football following is almost non-existent: their fathers were born in one state while their mothers another; or they are not of the Malay community where most of the support for local teams comes from; or they just find everything foreign to be exotic: not unlike the K-Pop lot.

Wear tudung like Malaysians, eat belacan like Malaysians, support Koreans.

This group of supporters are best recognized by high-profile individuals who channels big amount of ringgits to foreign football, like Tony Fernandes of AirAsia who owns Queens Park Rangers FC in England and Vincent Tan of Berjaya Corp. who owns Cardiff City FC of Wales. Apart from owning clubs, some local businesses chose to sponsor them: Genting Berhad is the main sponsor for Aston Villa FC while the likes of property developer SP Setia are joining the bandwagon with sponsorship of ad boards in high profile matches such as the Manchester City-QPR season-ender.

Sime Darby FC, with it’s foreign-originated name can be THE local club for this lot. The name sounds exotic enough: unlike MBPJ FC (which some people associate with the business of garbage collecting) or FELDA United FC (which some people associate with rural areas and folks, no matter how ‘exotic’ the word ‘United’ sounds).

The Venky bros are one of the high profile examples of Malaysian businessmen bleeding out locally-earned ringgits to their motherland, England. Wait… they’re Indians.

SDFC itself is based in Kuala Lumpur, where the majority of this group hails from. There might be a blessing in disguise for SDFC in KL’s main representative, Kuala Lumpur FA’s, bottom position in the Liga Super: it’s fans might look to shift their support to an alternative team from KL. This situation is similar to the increase of support seen to club-side Johor FC when the performance of the state team Johor FA deteriorated.

Why don’t SDFC grab this opportunity before it goes away?

2. Change the name to ‘SD Kuala Lumpur’

When fans start to flock to SDFC’s games, they will quickly enough find that the name Sime Darby is a tad too awkward to chant. Firstly, nobody knows how Mr. Sime or Mr. Darby looked like. Secondly, compared to “SE-LA-NGOR! SE-LA-NGOR!”, the chants of “Sime Darby! Sime Darby!” might similarly not twist the tongue, but dissimilarly, it does however rather unfortunate, rhyme worryingly close with the Malay word for ‘pig’.

The opponents will have a field day making fun of SDFC’s supporters.

According to the following definition, SDFC is not too different from the ‘plastic clubs’:

Plastic Clubs

Clubs like PSV Eindhoven, who are owned by electrical giant Phillips and Bayer Leverkusen, who are run by German pharmaceutical company Bayer, are the best examples. But there are many more across Europe and the rest of the world, all supported by businesses that they represent. It’s a symbiotic relationship – the club is supported by the business and the business is represented by the club.

But this model alienates the fans. They don’t represent the community because they didn’t grow up from the community. As a consequence they don’t generate the same passion or loyalty as other clubs because they aren’t reliant on the supporters for their existence.

Football, a Model Business

Probably that’s why the Bayer AG football team and the Philips Sports Union decided to pair the names of their companies with the names of cities: to become less ‘plastic’. They must’ve endured quite a lot of stick from their opponents before that.

Why not Sime Darby FC change it’s name to something less… insult-inducing? Something shortened like PSV Eindhoven, ‘SD Kuala Lumpur’ perhaps?

Sounds local and doesn’t rhyme with the name of any livestock. Still difficult to chant? Well, just chant to the team’s nickname of “GI-ANT KILL-ER, GI-ANT KILL-ER”. Sounds fierce and intimidating enough.

3. Become ‘a Barcelona’

SDFC is not a business. Instead, it is just one out of many CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) initiatives by corporate giant Sime Darby. Other initiatives include providing scholarship for national cyclist Azizulhasni Awang, waterfall clean-up at Sungai Tua Recreational Forest, rehabilitation of orangutan habitats in Ulu Segama-Malua Forest Reserve, diabetes awareness programme at an Orang Asli village in Pangsun and donation of books, shoes and clothes for Sime Darby plantation workers in Liberia. These community welfare programmes enable Sime Darby to receive tax exemptions from the government.

SDFC therefore, is just a welfare.

The orangutans of Ulu Segama are well taken care of by Sime Darby: they share the same budget with the football club.

For the year 2011, Sime Darby had spent more than RM64 million for it’s CSR initiatives, including for SDFC’s run in the second tier Liga Perdana. However, SDFC’s own target is to play in the Liga Super. Is the current SDFC budget, which is shared with the orangutans of Ulu Segama and the waterfalls of Sungai Tua, sufficient to run a team of enough quality to face Liga Super opponents week in, week out?

Or, had SDFC won last night’s FA Cup final, would the budget be sufficient to compete with the likes of Al-Faisaly of Jordan or Al-Ettifaq of Saudi Arabia in the AFC Cup?

Obviously, no.

So, should SDFC’s ambition stop at merely playing in the Liga Super, and not try to win it?

SDFC will definitely need reinforcing, which means more money is required. How can SDFC get more money, when the stadiums are empty? How can SDFC get more money, when it does not have any sponsors, apart from Sime Darby itself?

How can SDFC get more money, when it is not even a business entity?

SDFC can again look at the misfortunes of MBPJ FC to find the answers. MBPJ FC was a victim of it’s own ambitions: in it’s eagerness to become a big player in local football, MBPJ FC had spent more than it could afford. This caused it to fail to settle months of it’s salary bills, resulting in it’s Malaysia Cup hero, Juan Manuel Arostegui walking out of the club barely 24 hours before the 2006 Malaysia Cup quarterfinals. MBPJ FC lost both legs of the quarterfinals with the final aggregate of 5-0.

The fate of MBPJ FC went downhill from that moment on. 15 MPVs leased to the players were repossessed for non-payment, forcing some players to walk home from training. MBPJ FC then was sued by the Perlis FA for failing to settle the transfer fees for two players. Further humiliation was heaped onto MBPJ FC, when Perlis FA withdrew the suit ‘out of pity for MBPJ FC’.

Unpaid salary bills for MBPJ FC were reported to have reached the total amount of RM1.2 million.

The last nail on MBPJ FC’s coffin was struck when the club was suspended for two years by FAM, after it failed to present it’s commitment to compete in the 2006-2007 Liga Super, even when FAM had extended the deadline twice.

MBPJ FC was similar to SDFC in that both are clubs with a single paymaster. Both do not have a strong following and instead of people paying to watch them, both ‘paid’ people by giving out free tickets. This business model is not sustainable and borders on logic. If it is not rethought, like MBPJ FC, the more successful SDFC is in football, the more it will bleed money off it’s parent company, the Sime Darby Group.

MBPJ FC: Champions in 2003, defunct in 2006. Photo from The Star.

The way forward for SDFC is to become a full-fledged business entity that will not only be able to sustain itself, but will also be able to contribute to the revenue of the Sime Darby Group. Arguably the best business model of any football clubs in the world is the one currently being used by FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF:

Membership Clubs

The best examples of clubs which owe their existence to their supporters can be found in Spain. The league’s biggest rivals and most popular clubs, Real Madrid and Barcelona are non- profit-making and fully democratic organisations whose members vote for a president to run the club’s affairs. Real Madrid and Barcelona have memberships of 85,000 and 102,000 respectively all of whom pay a relatively small amount of money and, in return, are granted part ownership of the football club.

This model puts the power back into the hands of the only people who stick with a club through the bad times – the supporters. It’s a structure that’s accountable, so leads to good business practice and it makes the club’s affairs transparent.

Football, a Model Business

Imagine a two page advertisement in a national daily: the first page is to congratulate SDFC’s successful run in the just concluded FA Cup competition, the other: an announcement that SDFC is inviting Malaysian football fans from all walks of life to become it’s members. SDFC will become every football enthusiasts’ darling. A club by football enthusiasts, for football enthusiasts.

What could be more awesome than that? [Return to Main Page]


2 Respons to “How Sime Darby FC Can Become Awesome in 1,2,3”

  1. suka konsep validation tu. mnang tapi org x heran apacer kan?

    • Biasalah lat, “man is by nature a social animal” kata Aristotle.

      Kalau kurung manusia dalam solitary confinement, lama-lama dia akan mula cakap seorang diri. Dia tetap mahukan validation daripada org lain, dan kalau ‘orang lain’ tu tak ada, dia sendiri akan wujudkan ‘orang’ tu dlm imaginasi dia, kemudian minta validation daripada ‘orang’ imaginary tu.

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