The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has announced the Dubai-registered Asia Football Group (AFG) sports agency as its new exclusive commercial partner until 2028, days after terminating its contract with Football Marketing Asia (FMA).

The new deal will see AFG take over the AFC’s commercial and media rights for the remaining years of FMA’s initial eight-year contract.

The AFC said AFG’s experience in delivering the full spectrum of services would ensure “a smooth transition from AFC’s previous commercial partners.”

The governing body added the new commercial deal will enable the AFC to “continue its investment into its member associations and regional associations, deliver all its popular competitions, grow its fanbase, and cultivate a flourishing football community across the continent.”

The deal comes after the AFC announced on Friday (September 15) that it had ended its contract with FMA less than three years into its deal and was seeking a new partner as a replacement for the cycle’s remaining years.

FMA, then known as DDMC Fortis, won the AFC’s commercial and media rights in 2018, beating the governing body’s previous partner Lagardere Sports, as well as sport marketing agencies Infront and IMG in a tender process.  

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The deal was reportedly worth $4 billion and covered two commercial broadcast rights cycles from 2021 to 2028.

The original deal was renegotiated in 2020 as the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent global shutdown caused significant issues ahead of the start of the contract.

In a statement, the continental governing body said: “The AFC’s decision takes into careful consideration the new challenges and opportunities presented by the rapidly evolving post-pandemic commercial environment.

“The end of the exclusive partnership with FMA enables the AFC to explore new opportunities and collaborations that are better aligned with the current conditions while securing its financial future for the long-term success of Asian football.”

The shift in partners also comes as the AFC reportedly braces itself for possible legal action from several Asian soccer clubs for ignoring its own regulations on multi-club ownership as three Saudi Pro League clubs, all owned by the country’s Public Investment Fund, are set to compete in this year’s AFC Champions League.

Al Hilal, which recently added Brazilian star Neymar to the team, Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al Nassar, and Al Ittihad, which signed France’s Karim Benzema, are preparing to play in the 2023-24 edition of the competition, which starts later this month.

The AFC’s rules state that clubs with the same owner are barred from competing in the tournament if they have more than a 30% stake based on revenue. Additionally, the confederation’s statutes say that no party can “exercise third-party control in any manner whatsoever over more than one club or group where the integrity of any match or competition could be jeopardized.”

According to the Guardian news outlet, several Asian clubs outside of Saudi Arabia have asked the AFC why it has ignored its own rules and are considering a legal challenge.