JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia's Bali United this week became the first club in Southeast Asia to list its shares, a move that officials and fans hope could be a step towards developing a league that has been dogged by allegations of corruption.
Soccer is hugely popular in Indonesia, but while some local clubs have large fan bases, the country's leagues have frequently been tarnished by match-fixing claims and also deadly violence between opposing sets of supporters.
Star players from Bali United, currently lying second in the top flight Liga 1, attended Monday's share debut on the Indonesia Stock Exchange, which raised 350 billion rupiah (£19.5 million) and saw the stock jump nearly 70 percent above its initial listing price.
"We hope that this IPO (initial public offering) will increase the overall transparency between investors, management and the fans, who will now have a chance to own shares," said the club's chief executive Yabes Tanuri.
Bali United supporters snapped up nearly a third of the shares, primarily in small holdings, according to the listing's underwriter, Kresnas Securitas.
For many, it was the first time they had owned shares and some hoped it could at least help in the fight against corruption in the game.
"With the IPO, we the supporters will know information like how players are exchanged and what prices are paid for them," said Bali United fan Adi Wijaya.
"If all the soccer clubs professionalise like Bali then they can be kept in check by investors and OJK (the financial regulator)."
Indonesian soccer's governing body (PSSI) is currently embroiled in a match-fixing scandal, with police investigating some executives for allegedly offering bribes to coaches.
The Southeast Asian country was also barred from international soccer in 2015 due to government meddling in their domestic league, shutting them out of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup and 2019 Asian Cup. The ban was lifted in 2016.
Bali United's top shareholder and executives said they see the share listing as a way of tapping potential for growth in a country of more than 260 million people, as well as increasing transparency and opening a path for other clubs to list.
"The Indonesian soccer industry needs to move forward," said Bali United's majority shareholder, Pieter Tanuri, who pointed to broader reforms taking place in Indonesia's game.
He said the club had decided to list after Indonesian President Joko Widodo issued a government decree in March calling for further development of the game.
The Bali-based club, which ended the 2018 season in 11th place in Indonesia's 18-team Liga 1, is expected to be followed on the stock exchange by rival Persija Jakarta, which topped the league last year.
Thailand's Buriram United, one of the region's largest clubs, has also announced plans to list in 2019.
The only club previously to have listed in Asia is China's Evergrande Taobao back in 2015.
Bali United players told Reuters they were confident the financial changes would be positive.
"This (IPO) is good for the club and good for football in Indonesia," said the club's star Montenegrin–born striker Ilija Spasojevic.
While admitting he was not fully up to speed with the inner workings of an IPO, he was happy if it ensured the financial health of a club that he hopes can win the league this year.
But the challenges for Indonesian soccer remain significant.
Indonesian authorities have struggled to stop fan violence and temporarily suspended Liga 1 in September 2018, after a 23-year supporter of Persija Jakarta was beaten to death by supporters of rival club Persib Bandung.
Analysts and football observers also warn that it could take years to clean up endemic corruption in the game.
(Editing by Ed Davies and Sudipto Ganguly)