Mar 11, 2019

Grand Sport finds its footing with the AFF Suzuki Cup

With its first regional sponsorship, Thai sports apparel brand Grand Sport found the sweet spot, adopting digital-driven strategies to win big with the sport it knows best.

Grand Sport partnered with AFF Suzuki Cup in 2018
Grand Sport partnered with AFF Suzuki Cup in 2018

Southeast Asia might be a fast-paced, fragmented, digital-driven market of more than 600 million. But even in such an on-demand landscape, nothing unites an audience like a football tournament.

Top tournaments in the region have the power to reach millions of passionate consumers in several countries at once. And, done right, tournament sponsorships can be a springboard for brands aiming to grow regionally. For proof, look no further than Grand Sport and the AFF Suzuki Cup.

Finding the right fit for branding and business goals

Thai sports apparel brand Grand Sport was no stranger to the sport of football. The brand had long been a sponsor of Thailand’s national team, and it had provided match kits to top teams across Southeast Asia, including AFF Suzuki Cup-winning team Vietnam. Despite its standing in the sport, the brand hadn’t yet found the right moment to tap into the fiercely loyal culture of football fans to grow its business across Southeast Asia.

That moment finally arrived in 2018.

Last year, for its first regional sponsorship, Grand Sport made the savvy move to partner with the AFF Suzuki Cup. More than just the region’s premier football tournament, the biennial AFF Suzuki Cup boasts a 23-year history and has become one of the most closely watched sporting events in Southeast Asia. In 2016, the tournament was the top-rated sports programme in Thailand (40 million viewership) and Indonesia (35 million). That’s more than even the Euros get. And from 2016 to 2018, live attendance more than doubled, eclipsing 752,000 last year. That figure excludes the qualification rounds, too.

Far from being just a primetime TV or live event, the AFF Suzuki Cup perfectly represents the digital-driven zeitgeist in Southeast Asia. In 2018, the AFF Suzuki Cup evolved into a ‘social’ tournament. According to Lagardère Sports, from 2016 to 2018, the tournament’s social reach on Facebook and Instagram boomed, growing 169 percent to 208 million, with total social impressions climbing to over 567 million across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. At the same time, overall engagement tripled in number to 15 million, and thanks to over 101 million live and on-demand video views, the tournament’s channel following rose to 2.2 million.

The AFF Suzuki Cup represents the digital-driven zeitgeist in Southeast Asia

Not to mention the tournament revamped its format in 2018, a shift in match play that offered Grand Sport unrivalled opportunities to make a mark on fans outside of Thailand. For the first time, 10 qualifying teams played home and away matches in cities across the region, bringing primetime football action to packed stadiums in Southeast Asia’s biggest marketplaces.

“We quickly realised that, even from the first-round matches, we could start to make real connections with fans outside our home market, especially through digital campaigns,” says Thara Pluckcha-oom, marketing vice president of Grand Sport Group Co., Ltd. “With all the energy surrounding the 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup, we knew that a partnership with the tournament now was absolutely the right moment and opportunity for us to break into new regional markets.”

Using digital activations to amplify engagement

As the exclusive commercial partner of the AFF Suzuki Cup since 1996, Lagardère Sports has not only developed unrivalled access to the tournament—it has also played a pivotal role in reinvigorating the tournament’s identity and elevating its status. That means Lagardère Sports knows the AFF Suzuki Cup inside and out. And they know what works for brands and what doesn’t.

In 2018, the agency leveraged that knowledge to create a two-pronged digital campaign that would integrate Grand Sport into social and fan experiences throughout the tournament. That started with the Grand Sport Hero campaign.

The social-driven activation called on fans to add their own photos and artwork to a customised Grand Sport Match Ball Facebook filter, showing their passion for their national teams. After six weeks, two winners were selected to walk onto the pitch ahead of the AFF Suzuki Cup Finals carrying the official match ball, the Primero Mundo X Star. “This was definitely a money-can’t-buy experience for those fans, carrying the match ball to their country’s captains in front of their family, friends, and the millions of fans cheering for their national team,” says Pluckcha-oom.

Then, during the tournament, they followed up with the Grand Sport ‘Spot the Ball’ competition. The campaign called on fans to guess the position of the ball in a series of branded social infographics that ran throughout the AFF Suzuki Cup. More than just a social campaign, the competition brought fans together, debating the correct spot of the ball as they watched the match with their friends—and putting Grand Sport at the centre of their group experiences.

Together, the two activations tallied a total reach of 11 million and over 3 million video views.

“Even though this was the first time we ran a social media campaign on a regional scale, it performed even better than we could have imagined,” says Pluckcha-oom. “We knew that fans in Southeast Asia are a dynamic group, but we were blown away by just how strong the ASEAN football fan spirit is. Now, moving forward, we know social media will be a powerful tool to interact with them. There are so many opportunities for us to get creative with it.”

But the sponsorship with the AFF Suzuki Cup has paid dividends beyond introducing Grand Sport to new ideas with social media and helping to build its brand image regionally. On a more tangible level, says Pluckcha-oom, “Almost immediately after the tournament, we started receiving requests from companies in neighbouring countries that want to distribute our products.” 

In its first regional sponsorship, Grand Sport scored a big win. Now the brand is racing toward its next goal with momentum.

Lagardère Sports is a leading sports marketing agency with a global network of local experts dedicated to delivering innovative solutions across sports and esports—from marketing and digital activation to hospitality services that include comprehensive partnership development—for clients such as Grand Sport, providing them with privileged access to the infinite opportunities of sports.


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