It’s been a quiet few months for live sports. As global lockdown put normal life on hold, events were called off one after another; from local matches to international Formula 1 races and the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games—the first ever peacetime cancellation.
But when times get tough, sport responds. Now, it is regaining its stride and leading the charge is Southeast Asia and China, especially when it comes to football. Not only did the start of South Korea’s K League season mark the general return of live play, it also highlighted the huge regional enthusiasm for football.
The beautiful game is back with more passionate fans than ever and brands should make the most of this engagement boom.
Fans welcome return of fixtures
The region’s love of football isn’t new. In fact, research carried out in 2019 shows more than 22% of South Korean fans named football as their favourite sport. But after the extended COVID-19 hiatus, demand has reached a new fever pitch that spans multiple borders.
Data from Dugout’s online video player shows May’s much-anticipated return of the K League saw a whopping 7.6 billion views; and the biggest audiences weren’t national, with fans in Thailand and Vietnam powering the most significant viewing spikes.
As well as showing strong interest in seeing Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors play Suwon Samsung Bluewings, these figures prove football fandom in Asia is not only spreading fast, but also leaning heavily towards digital engagement. A trend that’s further illustrated by the high demand for archive video content seen across Dugout’s player pre and post-game, alongside huge surges in interaction on social media networks, particularly Twitter.
Passion runs high at home and away
It’s worth noting that the appetite for digital viewing also isn’t just reserved for games close to home. Previous studies have found English Premier League matches were driving high views long before lockdown; watched online by 27% of internet users in Thailand and 17% in Indonesia. In his first match for RCD Espanyol alone, former Chinese Super League player, Wu Lei, drew 40 million online viewers in China.
As football fixtures and viewers flow back to digital channels, smart brands will be moving to reach vast audiences following local and overseas matches, players, and clubs. Football has brought a welcome distraction from the subject of COVID-19 and brands can benefit by aligning with this hugely positive social currency.
The next frontier of major spending
With the global economy shifting to restart and recovery, attention is centring on where consumer spend will be, now and in the future. Asia ranks high on both lists.
According to the World Data Lab, the global middle-class population is on track to hit 5.3 billion by 2030, and 90% of the new middle class will be found in Asia. This means regional levels of higher income households with more money to spend is set to soar; as World Data Lab chief Kristofer Hamel notes: “these are the people who spend the most”.
The short-term financial outlook is also positive. Despite the pandemic, the IMF predicts that Thailand and Vietnam will see economic growth of 6.1% and 7% respectively in 2021, and China is tipped for even greater increases. Consumption in China is expected to rise to 74% of US levels by 2027.
How can brands stay on the ball?
The enticing combination of ever-expanding fan bases and spending potential hasn’t gone unnoticed in the football world. Just last month, Spain’s La Liga signed a 15-year agreement with entertainment giant Super Sports that will significantly dial up the league’s presence and sponsorship deals in China. Football clubs based in the region are also benefitting from greater attention, which is clear from the increase in major media deals, such as the recent broadcast and commercial agreement signed by The Asian Football Confederation with FMA (previously DDMC) for $4 billion.
Brands would do well to follow suit. And thanks to its broad popularity, there is plenty of scope for them to bolster their reach, resonance, and revenue through digital video. Major international football leagues predominantly sit behind broadcaster paywalls, which can be a barrier for some fans when it comes to live content. The potential for mass audiences lies with digital channels, which can provide reactive and engaging content that is not restricted by these paywalls. And it’s through digital that brands can achieve immensely precise levels of contextual relevance with tailored creative that makes their campaigns more relevant and, ultimately, more effective.
Football in Asia presents a budding avenue for diverse marketing; brands just need the right formation of messaging and content to deliver a winning strategy.
Mark McFarlane is the APAC general manager of Dugout, a football sports marketing firm that works with brands, advertisers, publishers and clubs.