Co-produced by Branded and Campaign Asia-Pacific, the two-day conference aims look at ways to build a healthy and sustainable sports industry in Asia. Featuring a packed list of industry leaders from brands, agencies and media day one had keynotes from StarHub and Unilever, as well as guest speakers from the NBA, Cricket Australia, Chelsea FC and Manchester United.
Over 400 delegates registered for the event, with 66 speakers and around 200 companies present. To mark the opening of the conference, Sports Matters announced the inaugural Sports Matters Academy, in partnership with Eurosport. The academy offers an intense one-day forum for students from the USA, Australia and Singapore to be mentored by industry leaders on working in sport.
Opening the conference with his welcome address, Lim Teck Yin, CEO of Sport Singapore outlined some of the challenges in growing sport in Singapore, where sponsorship was said to stand at 3 per cent.
Adam Hodge, regional strategy director for Southeast Asia at Octagon, tweeted: “3 per cent growth in sport sponsorship in Singapore v.s 11 per cent in non-sport last year. Alarm bells?”
“The Asian sports market is relatively immature—it’s at an early stage of its growth,” said Yin. “Singapore aims to be a hub of thought leadership and business expansion in sport. We as Singaporeans have raised our expectations of sport and we have aspirations to watch world-class sporting action.”
With Asia boasting the largest football fan base on the planet, it was no surprise that much of the focus for the early sessions was on that sport, where panelist shared their experiences on developing the football business in the region.
Discussing the sponsorship of European football clubs in Asia, Adrian New, MD Asia-Pacific of Chelsea FC said that Asian brands are yet to leverage the reach of European football. “Lots of Asian brands have not been brave enough to get involved with European football. But I think they will in time,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mark Harland, director of marketing at General Motors International, whose Chevrolet brand is a top sponsor of Manchester United FC, talked about the importance of local sponsorship in grassroots football in Asia.
“Local sponsorship is paramount for us. We need to partner with and encourage our local Chevrolet dealers to work with local clubs in the community,” he said.
In a keynote interview with StarHub CEO, Tan Tong Hai, he talked about second screen interaction and acknowledged that to captivate an audience in sport, it wasn’t enough to focus only on TV. “The youth don’t just want to watch something, they want to share, he said.”
Sports broadcasting was a key theme throughout the morning sessions and questions were raised about the likelihood of an on-demand service coming into play and overhauling the way audience view sports.
“The Netflix of sport could be on the way,” said Andrea Radrizzani, founding partner, MP & Silva. “I predict a big brand like Google or Samsung to make a big investment in sport.
Asked about what the sports landscape would be like in the future, Maurizio Barbieri, head of sports, MSC, SEA & Oceania at Samsung echoed idea. “In 2020? I go back to the idea of a Netflix of sport. If I’m a sports fan I want access to sports and information on-demand. I want to pause a game on the metro, share it with friends, and then switch to my TV when I get home”.
A post-lunch panel discussion delved into the challenges and strategies to creating successful sports strategies in Asia. The panel moderated by Atifa Silk, brand director for Haymarket Brand Media, included Catherine Gibbs, head of sponsorship, AIA Group, president & CEO Dentsu Sports Asia Kunihito Morimora, Marc Davies, senior Liverpool sponsorship manager at Standard Chartered.
Davies and Gibbs talked about regulatory and compliance concerns for financial services brands. Standard Chartered is only able to use its Liverpool partnership to promote retail products and even there regulators are starting to play spoilsport. Even this, varies hugely by local markets. Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia are fairly relaxed, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to utilise assets in Hong Kong and Singapore. According to Gibbs, this is forcing AIA to become more creative in how it promotes sports assets.
Morimora was vocal about the issue of growing sponsorship dollars in the region. He urged marketers not to look at sponsorship as a one-off brand building vehicle and to build a strong activation strategy. “I think there’s a lot of opportunity there,” he said. “We don’t want to serve rights alone. What’s the point having a Ferrari without gas.”
“What happens after the whistle blows?” asked Nicholas Wodtke, VP media solutions centre, Southeast Asia & Oceania, Samsung Electronics, kicking off a session on content and sustaining interest in sport.
Most of our fans interact with us away from the game, said Scott Levy, SVP & MD, NBA Asia. “We have huge volumes of content on social media that’s driven by the events all year long. The live game has never been less important.”
Manchester United’s Asia MD Jamie Reigle admitted that the level of conversation between matches is increasing and that presents a significant opportunity.
“You’ve got to fill the gap because if you don’t someone else will,” Ryan Sandlands, CEO APAC, Women’s Tennis Association chimed in.
The day’s final session featured Rahul Welde, VP, media for Unilever, who talked about brand building via sports and sporting associations. “We are definitely not the big boys in sport,” he joked. “But hopefully we’ll be the smart boys.”
Welde said sports matters because it is part of popular culture and has unparalleled scale. Unilever’s strategy in this area is around sporting ambassadors. He also underscored the importance of a good idea, agile thinking, “going beyond live” and investing in different sporting properties. However, while sport is global it is also local and “different sports for different folk” is the mantra that underpins everything it does.
According to Welde, activation is at the heart of the company’s association with Manchester United, a deal he believes cuts across geographies. “It’s purely rooted in the way we localise,” he said. Brands like Omo with the theme ‘Dirt is good’ have proved to be a good fit for Manchester United while hair care brand Clear with its positioning around performance uses the Formula One partnership well. “We like associations with big teams because they give us access to ambassadors."