Taiwan’s highest league underwent a ‘sexy’ re-branding last season and changed from being the Inter-City League to become the Taiwan Premier League. I am sure it was hoped that this would be a way of generating more interest in the league, however, it seems the re-branding was aimed specifically towards sponsors rather than trying to raise the profile of football by generating interest from the public.
Not a lot is different between the Intercity League and the Taiwan Premier League. There’s still only 8 teams competing, although there are other teams who would like to join they have to navigate a playoff for the rights to participate. My presumption is that the league organisers either think that more teams would dilute the quality, which would be a difficult task because the quality is lacking especially at the bottom end of the table with the leagues weakest teams often suppliers of 6 points for the majority of the other teams in the league. The other reason they could limit the number of teams joining the league could simply be down to a lack of funding to run the league, as funding for sports in Taiwan is a bit shambolic to put it nicely.
Previously teams would play each other twice in a ‘home’ and ‘away’ game even though no one really has a home or away ‘stadium’, a Wikipedia contributor would make you think otherwise if you read it without knowing anything about Taiwanese football. All league games are normally played in one location, therefore, someone’s listed ‘home’ stadium will play host to every league game, then it will move somewhere else. Sometimes league games will also be played at a location not listed at all on Wiki or as someone’s ‘home’ ground. The league now runs throughout most of the year as four round robins are played between the 8 teams, with the top 4 going into a playoff. First plays second to see who the champion is, then third plays fourth to see who third place is.
Other than the name, format and logo there is not a lot different to the previous incarnation of the league. Generally there is next to zero interest in watching league games, which isn’t helped by a multitude of factors including – who the participating teams represent, kick-off times, marketing including publicity as well as the league’s teams being semi-pro or amateur as there is next to no interest from local companies to support individual teams with the number of funds needed to become a semi-pro or pro team and the majority of the teams involved have no interest in developing any kind of youth set up, then even if they do its business first, youth development second.
I will now go into more detail to expand on these points:
Who the Participating Teams Represent
The teams participating in the league don’t represent any of society’s demographics. Currently, the participating teams are a power company, an electronics company, an assortment of universities plus a rabble of expats. With football being a tribal game, the organisers of the Taiwanese Premier League have failed to realise by not striving to make it more tribal they are already failing before a ball has been kicked.
In any other country around the world, the biggest two clubs would have some kind of following, in Taiwan no following exists. Normally the people there watching the games are either friends or family, people there because they have nothing better to do or folk who were passing by and have sat to watch this anomaly taking place while wondering what happened to the baseball. But, the biggest two teams in Taiwan are the state-run power company and Taiwan’s biggest electronics company. Now there is nothing wrong with them owning clubs, but the chances of growth when these as the countries two major teams is unlikely. It’s unlikely there will ever be a massive crowd for the Electro-Power Derby.
The same issue exists with the university and expat teams. No one is going to support the teams involved unless they’re friends or family, or the league manages to find a way to involve the teams in representing an area. Football is a tribal game, people like to come from one area to another to support their region, city, or town – in Taiwan the microcosm zooms in even further, you need to support your university, your company or your foreign mates – and this is highly unlikely to ever reach a mass audience. However, if you change this to Taipei vs Kaohsiung, Taoyaun vs New Taipei City and so on then it would be easier to market and generate an interest at least among the rising support base football has in the country.
Kick Off Times
Before the re-branded league games kicked off at 3pm on a Wednesday afternoon. After the re-branded league games kicked off at 3pm on a Wednesday afternoon. Anyone with an interest in football has no realistic chance to go and watch games at this time, as they’re most likely at work, or school. If you really want to raise the profile of a sport or generate more interest then the decision to play games when the majority of the country cannot possibly attend is ludicrous.
Marketing and Advertising
There is virtually no notice anywhere about Taiwan’s Premier League. It is nigh on impossible to find any information regarding games, kick-off times, or league table unless you follow the CTFA on social media. If you don’t follow the CTFA on social media you’re unlikely to know a league even exists. It is a big effort to get the word out on a low budget but it’s not entirely impossible.
There should be more effort in trying to reach a bigger audience about the games, but unless the teams associated with the companies and universities is changed to represent a local area you could advertise and promote the league as much as you want it won’t have any effect. For example, if Taipower funded Kaohsiungs team, it would represent the people of Kaosiung but still be Taipower’s team. It’s how it’s sold. Kaohsiung Power!
Amateur Teams Equals Amateur Football
As harsh as it sounds amateur teams create an amateur football culture. Amateur football is unlikely to have huge audiences other than football purists and diehards, which are in short supply in Taiwan. Even the two semi-pro clubs are substandard compared with other parts of Asia. Without, support in the way of funding there isn’t any way this can change.
This can also be linked to the astonishing lack of youth and school football, which has admittedly picked up in recent years but is still nowhere near the level it should be. Apart from Royal Blues who have just entered a youth team into the expat amateur, league, no other league teams have made any effort. Taipower and Datong have no excuses but they share winning the league between them every season, so they have a shortsighted mentality of why should we bother doing anything differently.
I saw on a video recently that Japan had the same haphazard set up in their football league system. Before the 1998 World Cup Japanese teams were all linked to a company, and the members of the company would be encouraged to go and watch ‘their’ teams. However they preferred to watch the baseball because why would they work all day, then leave work to watch the companies team when they could cheer on their city or town in the baseball. J-League football chiefs were desperate for the national team to get to a World Cup, and the only way they saw this as a possibility was getting rid of the factory teams and make the teams be representative of a local area. This is what they persuaded the teams to do, and then football grew rapidly. Proving that tribalism is vital for football growth.
Now I am not saying that football in Taiwan could grow as quickly as it did in Japan, but the Japanese story is strikingly similar in every way to the current Taiwanese model. It would not be unachievable for the league to experience growth by creating teams like: Taipei, Kaohsiung, Hualian, Yilan, Hsinchu et al. It is definitely a difficult strategy to implement as it would need the co-operation of the current league teams, but encouraging people to get behind their city or town would certainly generate interest more than the power company, electronics company or universities ever will. Therefore Taiwan’s league rebranding should be considered a failure.