Santos take on Corinthians tonight in the mostly hotly anticipated game of the year. The winner will go on to the final of the Copa Libertadores, South America’s Champions League.

Santos have won the tournament three times, Corinthians have never been to the final and are absolutely desperate to become the fourth of Sao Paulo’s big four clubs to win it (as I say here in last month’s post about their passionate fans).

One of the reasons a club like Santos, which has regular gates of around 12-13,000 (only a few hundred more than Hibs), is so successful is down to its marketing plan. I explain what it has done to bring in revenue and professionalise in this Reuters piece that came out earlier this week.

The club is one of many that has become become more professional in recent years, like many in Brazil.

As I say in my story:

      Encouraged by a rising middle class with money to spend, ambitious and cash-rich sponsors looking to reach them, and a powerful currency that makes signing and holding on to players easier, Brazil’s football clubs are slowly becoming more professional.

     They are still a world away from rivaling the corporate stars that are Barcelona and Manchester United. But for the first time, they are treating their off the field activities with some of the seriousness that has made them so respected on the pitch.

     Brazil’s 20 top clubs generated $ 2.14 billion reais last year, a 27% rise on 2010 and 73 % up what it was just four years previously, according to a BDO report.

     The money is pouring into the game because of Brazil’s economic boom and football’s increasing credibility, experts and executives at different clubs said.

     In 2003, the government introduced legislation that tightened security in and around Brazil’s dilapidated football grounds. The league won a newfound credibility the same year when it abandoned the complicated and unpredictable play off system league in favour of a more stable round robin tournament like that used in England, Spain and Germany.

     More recently, the financial crisis in Europe stopped foreign clubs from cherry picking so many Brazilian players and forced Brazilian teams to rely less heavily on transfer fees. The amount clubs received from TV deals has jumped sharply this year thanks to new negotiating rules.

     And Ronaldo’s return to Corinthians in 2009, and the close partnership the club formed with sponsors to make the deal work, showed clubs new ways of making money.

The clubs still have a lot of work to do. They are not companies and therefore not transparent and they are run by unpaid fans rather than the top professionals in their respective fields.

As Amir Somoggi, a well-known sports analyst with BDO told me:

“There’s still a long way to go, not just in terms of management and administration but also in marketing. We have a lot to learn from the Europeans. They have matchday revenue, we sell tickets for games.  Teams there have 30 sponsors, teams here have three.”