Sports Marketing in Asia Sees Grassroots Growth

Lisa Johnson, Asia director of sports-marketing agency GMR Marketing

Even though this is not the latest, this interview showed the gain of interest in sports marketing in Asia have been seen at least since 2012.

Asia has the world’s third largest sports market, with revenues of US$23.3 billion in 2012, and is expected to have the third fastest growth rate at 3.9 per cent in 2015, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers’ outlook for the global sports market to 2015. However, as Lisa Johnson, Asia director of sports-marketing agency GMR Marketing, explains, the opportunities for brands to capitalise on this growing market are not limited to the headline-grabbing events.


How is the consumption of sporting events increasing and changing in Asia?

First of all, we are seeing economic development and the rise of a middle class with more disposable income and leisure time. Governments are putting sports on the agenda and increasing funds for sports programmes and infrastructure.

Increasing consumption of sports also comes from massive international sports events in Asia, such as the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, Asian Games and Formula 1. These events have been building a legacy which has seen the population becoming more engaged in sports, as well as the venues, infrastructures and facilities, which are where sports really start.

Increasingly, Asian superstars are drawing people’s attention to sports, and giving children inspiration and direction to do sports.

Lastly, increasing platforms, such as mobile devices, make international and regional sports content more accessible. Media outlets are also doing more interesting things with a lot of entertainment factors with sports.

What does this mean for sports marketing?

There is a significant change in the ecosystem of sports: more investment in the grassroots. This has offered more opportunities for brands to connect with the consumer base and tap into that passion for the teams and sports. It also gives more layers for brands to invest in. Such investment, including commercial partnerships, sponsorships, buying the rights to content to use in multi-platforms and endorsement, will help the whole economic, financial and commercial infrastructure grow in strength, which ultimately will promote grassroots sports, creating a stronger, better sports ecosystem.

What is the latest trend in sports marketing in Asia?

We see great expansion in Asia’s sports marketing. Governments have put sport events as part of its marketing to draw tourists to the region, such as the Standard Chartered Marathon [in Hong Kong], and this is also the focus point of sports marketing.

Because of the huge amount of available platforms, young consumers are consuming more entertainment, which is how sports need to be marketed. For example, the Singapore F1 usually comes with massive rock concerts; the Indian Premier League (IPL) had Bollywood stars to perform in the opening ceremony, and that was designed specifically with the audience in mind.

What does sports marketing offer brands in Asia?

Sports marketing gives brands a unique opportunity to have a conversation within consumers’ hearts and minds, and to build a personal relationship and loyalty to the brand through sports. At the same time, it turns sports fans into the brand’s fans.

Every country has its unique passion and strength when comes to sports. Brands need to have a target strategy depending on budget, target market, objective, right brand fit, etc.

What is the top sports-marketing opportunity in Asia?

One of the biggest opportunities is Asian football, which has now been given higher profile with high visibility. The viewership of AFC Champions League had a year-on-year increase of 53 per cent in 2012. As its competition becomes more well known, we will see more sponsorship being activated, partly because Asian football is still more accessible than leagues like the English Premier League. Sponsorship will also build up brands in the competition.

What are Asian consumers looking for from sports brands?

Same as the rest of the world, Asian fans are looking for fusion of sports and entertainment, and unparalleled access to their stars and heroes. This is where endorsement works as fans want to feel personally connected to heroes and a sense of belonging.

Are brands in Asia maximising sports marketing potential?

Brands now tend to use a 360-degree approach, with holistic, integrated campaigns, which is the heart of marketing. They are moving away from traditional marketing, such as putting out the logo, which still has its importance, considering the large number of sport fans in Asia, but we see more digital, point to sell, activation, outdoor, endorsement, and sponsorship, driven by multi-channel consumers.

What role is digital playing in sports marketing?

Social media is also changing the name of the game. Clubs, players and rights-holders need to be aware of how they are and who they are. If any opinion online is managed badly, it will not only damage them, but also sponsors. How to manage content is being looked at right now.

We see utilisation of interesting, engaging and branded content, which is becoming even more important, as young people now are used to consuming that content via mobile. Advertisers are beginning to leverage mobile marketing. A lot of creative advertising comes out of this. Asia is leading the way in mobile-device marketing.

What is the outlook?

Asia’s sports marketing is emerging with growing interest in sports. Brands are experimenting in what they can do to engage with consumers, but there is far more education to be done.

Brands can’t keep investing in sports on their own without support from the government. You need the grassroots to build up the sports ecosystem. The best model to achieve this is through public-private partnership (PPP) with a 360-degree approach.

Brands also need more measurement for sponsorships ROI. The high mobile penetration in this region enables marketers to target really specific consumer groups. Through engagement, brands can collect data and make the right sponsorship. Apart from that, the rights holders also need to come up with more convincing and entertaining way to attract fans.