Staff Writer
May 30, 2018

How Singapore Tourism Board is bringing the city’s stories to life through sports marketing

Activating experiences around premier sporting events—including the WTA Finals—the city-state is establishing itself as a global sports and lifestyle destination.

Tennis champ Simona Halep tries her hand at cooking as part of STB's ambassador campaign.
Tennis champ Simona Halep tries her hand at cooking as part of STB's ambassador campaign.

Amid increased competition from regional tourism destinations, Singapore is starting to separate itself from the pack. According to statistics from the Singapore Tourism Board (STB), 17.4 million tourists visited the city-state in 2017, spending S$26.8 billion—historical highs that suggest its marketing strategy is working even in an era of constant disruption, evolving consumer sensibilities and new tourism attractions and investments in Southeast Asia. 

A great brand story lies at the heart of that success.

Recently, STB has begun to re-tool its marketing approach to meet millennial challenges. Where traditional attractions and a strong retail scene may have once been the bedrock of tourism marketing, a calendar full of world-class events and unique experiences now underscore the destination brand. From culinary journeys to dynamic live entertainment—jazz festivals, art and design-focused block parties, one-off events at the Marina Bay—Singapore has sought to appeal to every traveller’s passion points.

More and more that includes events geared toward sports fans and action seekers.

STB is grooming the island nation to be a global capital of world-class sports events. The Formula 1 Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix has grown into arguably the most iconic race on the franchise’s calendar. In recent years, it has been joined by several other prominent sports events, such as the International Champions Cup, the HSBC World Rugby Singapore Sevens, the SMBC Singapore Open and the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global.

“While the sports tourism industry in Singapore is still in a fairly nascent state, we believe there is enormous potential to tap into interest-based travel to power growth,” says Jean Ng, director of sports for STB. “Attracting and anchoring concepts with strong premium content, such as world-class sports events, is a key part of our strategy to develop Singapore as a leading leisure destination.”

WTA's best pose against Singapore's Gardens by the Bay. From left to right: Caroline Wozniacki, Agnieszka Radwańska, Petra Kvitová, Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Ana Ivanović, Eugenie Bouchard and Simona Halep

The WTA Finals is one event that demonstrates the board’s ambition, not to mention the organisational capabilities required to power it. The crown jewel on the women’s tennis calendar, the WTA Finals began a five-year run in Singapore in October 2014. It has since grown into one of the most all-encompassing events the sport has to offer each year.

Seeking to complement the unparalleled action on the court (only the eight best WTA players each season qualify for the finals), STB has developed compelling off-court programming that has opened up the WTA Finals to more than just tennis fans, but casual leisure visitors as well.

The purpose-built Fan Village offers family-friendly fun as well as tennis-themed activities, including autograph sessions and athlete appearances. A range of lifestyle activities, from a tennis-themed mural contest to concerts, as well as STB's [email protected] have transmitted the energy around the tennis action to crowds across the city. Meanwhile, WTA players and legends have met with fans and young athletes around the island, helping to nurture interest in the sport locally.

According to a survey conducted by SportSG, Singapore has seen a 30 percent increase in the regular participation of tennis. That figure is underscored by the launch of the ActiveSG Tennis Academy in 2016 and the Singapore Tennis Festival in 2017, both of which have created more pathways for young tennis players to pursue the sport.

“For the world-class sporting events that we support, we strive to mould them into all-rounded experiences that go beyond the high-octane sporting action,” Ng explains.

Whilst the WTA Finals engages fans in Singapore—the finals attracted 133,000 fans in 2017—STB has leveraged the event to project the destination brand to audiences around the world.

The large host city name on the baselines of Centre Court at the Singapore Indoor Stadium has put Singapore firmly on the map of television audiences tuning into matchplay, with TV cutaways of attractions and street scenes telling a compelling version of its destination story.

In the same vein, on the eve of each tournament, a photograph is taken of the most elite women’s tennis players in the world against the unmistakable backdrop of the Singapore skyline, a photograph that puts the island nation on front pages worldwide.

With so many eyes on Singapore during the WTA Finals every October, STB has worked closely with event promoter, Lagardère Sports, to properly leverage the event year-round. The two have organised publicity events to create, co-create or curate content that engages different audiences and tourism stakeholders.

For example, current and former players have been enlisted for promotional stop-overs in previous years, including current No. 1 player Simona Halep and reigning WTA Finals champion Caroline Wozniacki, as well as WTA legends Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert.

On these stopovers, the players are introduced to various slices of Singapore and then act as ambassadors to promote their experience. Halep famously practiced sunrise yoga atop SkyPark at Marina Bay Sands, whilst Wozniacki toured Tiong Bahru, made cocktails at world-famous 28 Hong Kong Street and rode a zipline on Sentosa Island.

Caroline Wozniacki (centre) performed on traditional Malay drums together with local performers NADI Singapura at the Malay Heritage Centre

“Millions of viewers have come to know Singapore through televised coverage of the WTA Finals over the last four years, taking in not just the world-class tennis but also our vibrancy as a lifestyle destination,” says Ng. “That coverage gets amplified when the world’s top female tennis players share snippets of the Lion City with their large fan bases on social media.”

That was the case when Lagardère Plus engaged Halep again off the back of STB’s new tagline in 2017—Passion Made Possible. This time, she paired up with Carolyn Kan, local designer and founder of artisan jewellery label Carrie K, to craft customised fashion pieces. Her experience was captured across social media platforms, garnering likes and generating conversations whilst showcasing Singapore as a destination that is more than just a venue for sporting events.

“Singapore is a place that fulfils individual passions and inspires new possibilities,” says Ng. “Those strengths allowed us to introduce Simona to an experience completely separate from tennis and show how two different worlds can come together and forge exciting new possibilities.”

Thanks to sport, STB has been able to highlight the rich tapestry of experiences that Singapore has to offer both visitors and locals, activating stories filled with fan emotion across channels. The WTA Finals, along with every other major sporting event in Singapore, has become more than a competition – it is a conduit to connect with fans’ passion points, and STB is tapping into this potential like never before. With the WTA Finals, STB is serving aces.

As a leading sports marketing agency, Lagardère Sports is on the world’s playing fields throughout the year. Working closely with governments, sports rights holders, stadiums, athletes, brands and media networks, Lagardère Sports offers innovative solutions in marketing partnerships, digital activation, Olympics and major events bid strategy, content production and distribution as well as hospitality services and venue management.


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