APAC is becoming a hot market for global sports organisations, as major sporting events like Fifa U-17 world cup happening in India and Tokyo 2020 are setting the benchmark.
The Drum earlier wrote about why it is the right time for English Premier League clubs to increase investment in India. With many other sports events forcing the spotlight on Asia, The Drum spoke with former Singaporean footballer R.Sasikumar, who is now chairman of Red Card Global, a Southeast Asian sports and lifestyle marketing organization, about the future of Asian brands in the sports marketing and sponsorship realm.
How much have the commercial aspects of sports evolved in SE Asia, especially when it comes to brands and sponsors?
When we first started back in 2005, brands in Singapore and around the region were still unsure about sports marketing and its effectiveness. We had to do a lot to educate brands about the power that sports bring and how they could harness the opportunities.
Fast forward to 2017, we are in a much better position because marketers are beginning to realize that it’s important to have a share of voice in a very cluttered marketplace and sports allows them to build communities that they can engage at scale.
How has the role that Asia and Asian brands play in sports changed over the years, particularly regarding investment and sponsorship? How will it change?
Asian brands are present in top sporting properties around the world. The emergence of Chinese and some Southeast Asian brands have proved that brands in Asia are willing to spend if the fit is right.
For example, Nissin (Japanese food brand) and Manchester United have signed a multi-year sponsorship agreement. Through this partnership it is leveraging on assets, such as player images, across Asia where you see cutouts of Manchester United players in supermarket aisles, which builds brand affinity and awareness. This is one example and almost across all of Asia we see brands forming partnerships with top football clubs and players for their marketing campaigns.
Sports sponsorship will keep evolving with digital now in play. There will be a lot of challenger brands coming out of Asia looking to leverage on sports to increase their global presence. Thai brand King Power is another example when it piggy bagged on Leicester City’s brilliant run in the Premier League and gained a huge fan base globally and earned massive media value.
Sponsorship in sports will continue to see an upward trend, as long as nothing drastic happens to the Asian economy.
Do you think more global sports organizations should invest in Southeast Asia and why? What impact do big events like Tokyo 2020 and upcoming winter games in Asia do to impact sports investment? How does it impact ad spend?
Southeast Asia is attractive because its home to 650 million people within both developing economies such as Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia and matured markets such as Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Sports rights owners have realized the potential of the market and view Southeast Asia as a final frontier besides Africa in terms of potential growth. Football always has a cult following in Asia, and many leagues, clubs and players have taken advantage of its popularity. From Bundesliga to La Liga, many have set up offices in Singapore and the region to have presence in the market with the hope to land long-term partnerships with Asian brands.
Big events drive tourism and it's only natural that local business profit from it. However, there is a need to be cautious when hosting such a marquee event because we’ve seen from the past that infrastructure, such as stadiums and sports facilities, have become white elephants after major games. Rio De Janeiro is still reeling from the hangover, along with a huge debt leftover from hosting the Olympics. Governments have to be responsible and careful when taking on big international events and must study its viability before jumping in.
Also, it’s only natural when a big event comes to town that marketing and advertising spend goes up. Despite the pricey buy-in for brand visibility, advertisers know that it’s always good to leverage on sports entertainment to build their community.
Tell us about your latest partnerships and investments.
We’ve signed a six-year commercial deal with the Philippines Football League to be their strategic partner for media and sponsorships. We are very excited about the prospect of building something from start with the Philippines Football Federation. With a young population of 100milion, the newly launched Philippines Football League (PFL) presents great opportunities as a business for us.
We’ve also established our presence in Indonesia by acquiring Footballicious, a sports marketing agency in Indonesia. This will strengthen our offering to our clients, partners and ensure we deliver the best solutions with good local know how. Football is an interesting business vertical in Indonesia. Massive cult-like following for local football presents great business opportunities for us and we needed a good team and that’s why we bought Footballicious.
They have over a decade of experience in the Indonesian market and are the number one football activation group in Indonesia.
Other projects we are investing in include growing Red Card TV to become the largest alternative sports digital platform in Asia. We are putting a strategic focus on scaling up Red Card TV operations across South East Asia before expanding beyond the region. The platform will present content creators the ability to monetize their content from various partnerships, and grow their fan base.
In addition, we are also launching a football training franchise called SuperSkills. It’s anUber-like project allowing ex pros to own a football business without having the pains of running a business, introducing technology to solve the pain points which will disrupt the football training industry. We are very excited to be launching the project in Q4 2017.
You launched your own sports radio. How popular are podcasts in Southeast Asian countries? Do the brands support them?
Podcasts are growing in popularity and there’s an organic growth in Asia for podcast. Unfortunately, there are many brands are still unaware of the scale podcasts can offer for their businesses. In the past, brands had to rely on the radio stations because only they had exclusive access to their audience. Today, brands can tell their story directly to their consumers through creative content bypassing radio and other broadcasting networks. Marketers are looking at Podcast as an important component of content marketing these days, which presents business opportunities for us.
Will more agencies be looking at sport in Asia? How will that change the competition for you?
Recently, there’s a trend for both startup and international agencies entering the Asian sports market – it’s bound to happen especially in an industry that’s very lucrative and vibrant, given the market size.
We enjoy competition because it makes us raise our game. We have propriety businesses that are exclusive to us which should ring fence our business but it’s a collaborative economy and we are always open to even work with our competition if we can add value and grow our business. The long-term plan for Red Card Global is to scale the business beyond Southeast Asia.