Sport & Culture

Beckham Still Shines in Asia

David Beckham may be nearing the end of his football career. But high prices stop a warm welcome in Asia.

Football team LA Galaxy – and more specifically David Beckham’s tour of the Asia-Pacific region – started slowly but soon recovered. And by the time it ended in Melbourne on Tuesday, the feeling was that the English star had earned even more fans, despite complaints over high ticket prices.

The American team was in the region on an end-of-season exhibition tour. It took in Jakarta on November 30, Manila three days later and then headed down under.

Organizers say that as they pay top dollar to bring the big stars to Indonesia, Philippines and Australia, then they have to charge premium prices for the locals.

Erick Thohir, also the co-owner of National Basketball Association team the Philadelphia ’76ers, is the man responsible for the Indonesian leg of the tour, and he was trying to be realistic but optimistic before the match.

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“Ticket sales are OK, they are not doing great, but OK,” Thohir told Associated Press. “In terms of broadcasting and sponsorship, we are doing well. Our projection is that we will sell about 45,000 tickets. The cheapest is only $7, with the most expensive, in the VIP section it is $200. Pricing should be OK, but there have been lots of games recently.”

In the end, only 20,000 attended the game in the 80,000 capacity Gelora Bung Karno Stadium. That may not be a terrible number, but it’s always going to look sparse in such an arena.

Indonesia is one of the most passionate football-loving countries in Asia, and just a week previously the stadium was full for the final of the SEA Games against Malaysia.

It wasn’t a good start, but then the mood changed in the Philippines. This was certainly not automatic. If Indonesia loves the sport, the same can’t really be said about the Philippines, which is much more interested in boxing and basketball.

Much more American influenced, this archipelago has never really fallen in love with the beautiful game. But that seems to be changing a little with the improving fortunes of the national team.

The team, nicknamed the Azkals, reached the second round of qualification for the 2014 World Cup before being beaten by Kuwait – no disgrace there – and also reached the last four of the 2010 ASEAN Cup last December.

Despite that, the new-found love seemed at first to have been overestimated somewhat (although the tickets were overpriced, starting at $45).

Unsurprisingly, sales were sluggish and organizers annoyed those who had already shelled out by slashing the price by 35 percent two days before the match was due to kick off.

That helped fill the 13,000 capacity stadium, as did a number of local celebrities heading to the arena all hoping to get a chance to talk to the man himself.

They may or may not have left happy, but most of the fans did as Beckham scored the first goal and had a good game in a 6-1 win for the Americans.

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Next, the Americans and their Englishman headed down under. The team has played in Australia twice before, and both times it was a success – especially in 2007 in Sydney when 80,000 fans turned out to watch.

Almost 35,000 were in Melbourne to see the local A-League team to the Americans in a penalty shootout. Once again, Beckham did the business on and especially off the pitch, to leave even those in Asia and Australia who felt tickets were far too expensive admitting that he’s a class act.

So while the tour may have started slowly, the team recovered. And in the end, even in the twilight of his career, Beckham’s star still shines in Asia.