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Playing keepy-uppy: APAC sponsors of Euro 2020 find relevance through digital innovation

Mobile phones are key to engaging APAC sports fans

Streaming, social media and mobile have dominated the pitch for sports sponsors but with Euro 2020 returning to our screens after a year of digital transformation, the time is now for brands to stay connected. With a huge football fanbase in Asia, The Drum speaks to experts about how sponsors can get the best value from international sporting events.

One of the main attractions of football sponsorship is buying into the fanatic, almost religious, following of the sport. This means that, while the majority of Euro 2020 games are played after midnight in Asia Pacific, fans are more than willing to stay up late to catch the games. With access to content easier and legitimate streaming services bringing the games to people’s mobile phones, the opportunity to engage Asian fans has never been greater.

Duncan Pointer, managing director of Mailman APAC (excluding China), explains: “The appetite for the Euros in Asia is huge. Most football fans in the region follow European football leagues such as the EPL, La Liga or the Bundesliga, so they’re familiar with the players – the Euros is a chance for fans in Asia to see their favorite players in action consistently over a short period of time.

“With that appetite, and the number of Asian football fans, the Euros is an opportunity to reach a huge audience. And when you look at the sponsors, for most of them Asia is either a key region already, or is a high growth region.”

The challenge, however, is driving real value from this investment. While the pandemic has forced through innovation and accelerated consumption habits into digital, it also means localized tactics are needed.

Going into extra time

The year delay to the tournament will have been costly for sponsors, and returning to smaller crowds and social distancing could have dampened the excitement.

Malcolm Thorpe, managing director, South East Asia, Sportfive, says the impact of the pandemic means a more localized approach is needed to drive the engagement and excitement needed from sports sponsorships.

“Many of the deals for the current Euros event, which has been held over from last year, were done some time ago so they don’t necessarily represent the current state of the market.

“With the disruption of Covid-19 on so many facets of the sports ecosystem, we believe that in the short term, we will see a trend towards the localization of sponsorships within the APAC region as brands will be more inclined to look for assets that are focused on their home market following the impact of the pandemic. But over time we are going to see a return to the internationalization of the sponsorship business, and more and more Asian brands will continue to invest in big international rights like Uefa Euro 2020 as global economies begin to open up to each other,” he adds.

Getting caught offside

The digitalization of sports on the one hand can help with the biggest hurdle for activating international sponsorship in Asia, which is the time zone. However, the decentralization of media content can leave some brands caught offside.

Chris Guo, business director at Mindshare China, explains: “When it comes to sponsorship of international competitions, the biggest challenge lies in capturing the attention of audiences during key moments, given the relatively smaller audience owing to time zone differences. However, the bigger the event, the smaller the effect – with the most popular events drawing loyal fans, regardless of the time of night.

“In the age of social media, consumers’ media consumption habits have become more diverse and fragmented, causing the overall media environment to become decentralized. As a result, brand owners should create media portfolios when reviewing their investment, selecting media that reflects their target audience’s media consumption habits.”

Winning the trophy

The answer to these challenges is in brands taking a localized approach to media and creative and investing in remote fan engagement by keeping up with the digital habits of the audience.

Sportfive’s Thorpe says: “Over the past decade, what sponsors did to engage their audience has changed almost beyond recognition. Tools and strategies that were cutting-edge just a few years ago are fast becoming obsolete. New approaches are appearing every day. The ways that fans consume sports is also changing – fans can now experience multiple touchpoints with the tournament from the moment they wake up until they go to bed. They can see the tournament, and by extension the brand partners who have effectively leveraged the sport’s reach and clout at any time.

“With attention being the biggest challenge, sponsorship has had to evolve to enable brands to remain visible and relevant. Significant budgets are now spent on digital activations and other ‘remote’ fan engagement opportunities rather than just buying 30-second broadcast ads like before.”

Adding to this, Mailman’s Pointer says there’s a real opportunity for sponsors to drive value from the time before and after tournaments when the games aren’t being played but fans are still hungry for content.

He says: “Sponsor’s strategies should be built on understanding the fans, how and when they are consuming content, the types of content that resonate with them, and how best to use a platform such as Euro 2020 to drive business performance. We believe that broadly following this approach shouldn’t change, but the output of this may lead to very different strategies from one tournament to the next.

“Additionally, too many sponsors focus just on the tournament and neglect the fact that they have a four-year window to actively engage sports fans – we believe sponsorship strategies should play out over the four-year cycle, not just when the tournament is on.”

Brands such as TikTok are very visible at this year’s competition, hinting at the global ambitions of the company and the need for fast-growing Asian brands to gain an international audience. Yet the visibility of Asian brands is also a testament to the power of the Asian fanbase.

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