Gary Scattergood
Jul 1, 2016

Asian football: More brands are lining up, but marketing talent lags behind

Lagardere Sports SVP likens China’s football marketing industry to where ad agencies were in the country 10-15 years ago

Swee Sin Wu
Swee Sin Wu

ASIA PACIFIC - The explosion of football in Asia, and especially China, is broadening the industry sectors interested in marketing and sponsorship, but the sport and its teams still have some way to go to attract truly top class media and marketing professionals.

That’s the view of Swee Sin Wu, SVP, Commercial, Football Asia at Lagardere Sports - the long-term marketing partner for the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).

Its core competitions are the AFC Champions League, the highest-level club tournament in the region, and The AFC Asian Cup, the competition for national teams held every four years.

Speaking to Campaign Asia, Wu said: “Four or five of the most significant global football deals in terms of acquisition have come from China in the last year or so. The China Super League is driving high attendances and attracting sponsors at the highest level. It is growing at such an exponential rate that all eyes are clearly there.”

Those deals included Chinese consortium CMC taking a 13 percent stake in City Football Group, which owns Manchester City, New York City, Melbourne City and has a minority stake in Yokohama F Marinos, and a consortium of renewable energy and media investors investing in Italian giants AC Milan.

Meanwhile on a domestic level, teams such as Guangzhou Evergrande and Shanghai Greenland Shenhua have been splashing the cash on international players, while President Xi has stated China should become a major global footballing nation by 2050.

The challenge now for the sport, said Wu, was to attract the best marketing and media professionals to take the game to the next level.

“What we are seeing in football in China now is not dissimilar to what we saw in the advertising industry in China 10 or 15 years ago,” he said.

“There was a huge gap in terms of capability, so we saw executives from Hong Kong and elsewhere helping the local teams get up to speed. I suspect that this will be the situation with football, where media and marketing people from other industries start to veer towards football.

“So I'd quite like to see an ad agency person seeing a football marketing role as a viable, long-term career option. I think we are a few years away from that yet, but at the rate of growth Asian football is undergoing, people working in marketing elsewhere may start to look at the football business as a real career.”

In terms of the industries involved in football marketing and sponsorship, Wu says Asia has mirrored Europe with airlines, financial services and automotive brands dominating.

However, he cites Alibaba’s sponsorship of the Fifa Club World Cup last year as a pointer to where new opportunities will reside.

"This is very significant and if I look at the broader scheme of things, I think we will see a lot more commercial enterprises entering the Fortune 500 list in China [as opposed to state-owned enterprises] and these are the companies which I think will look at football and decide that they are big enough to get involved.”

Wu said these brands were also being attracted to the sport due to the additional marketing opportunities that have developed in recent years.

“Historically Asian brands were very keen to be involved from an advertising and sponsorship perspective around signboard exposure that gets translated into immediate media value,” he said.

However, increasingly in the last two years, Wu is finding greater demand from brands around social media engagement and off-field activations.

“Take Toyota, for example, which has been involved for many years. They now want more than just seeing their signboards on TV. They are looking at things like showroom activations, social media campaigns and getting cars on display at matches. In that sense, there has been a quantum leap in recent years.”

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