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Sports Matters Q&A: How big sports brands tackle the big markets


Scott Levy (second left) of NBA Asia, Ryan Sandilands of the WTA, Mike Kerr of the Asian Tour and Jamie Reigle of Manchester United. Photos: Branded / Sports Matters.

NBA, WTA, Asian Tour and Manchester United representatives weighed in on a host of topics at the Sports Matters panel session: ‘Content matters – The next chapter for sponsorship marketing’. Following are extracts from the discussion by the panel:

  • Scott Levy, Senior Vice President and Managing Director, NBA Asia
  • Ryan Sandilands, CEO Asia-Pacific, WTA (Women’s Tennis Association)
  • Mike Kerr, CEO, Asian Tour
  • Jamie Reigle, Managing Director Asia-Pacific, Manchester United


How important is having Asian personalities to attracting brands to your specific sports?


20140917_RyanSandilands_300Ryan Sandilands/WTA: I speak from being blessed with Li Na’s success in recent years. There have been others as well – Peng Shuai from China, Hsieh Su-wei from Chinese Taipei – so earlier in the year you had the No. 2 in the world singles player in Li Na and the No. 1 doubles pair in the world in Peng and Hsieh. As such, China’s women’s tennis has never been in a better position.


But to say that it’s just down to two of three athletes is actually missing the economic and social development that’s taking place in China and in Asia.


For us, tennis is the No. 1 aspirational sport in China and ‘when China squeezes, the rest of Asia catches a cold’, so we see that happening in other markets, especially in places with increasing disposable income, so it’s not only down to two or three players.


20140917_ScottLevy_300Scott Levy/NBA: I think it’s helpful. The expectation of that player has gone up from 15 years ago, when those players were just starting to come over to the USA.


For us, Yao Ming, when he grew up, he wanted to play basketball because of the players he saw on television. First, you have to have the exposure for people to see it and then you have to have the players come over and perform at a very high level.


But our most popular players in every country around the world are basically the same guys. It’s Kobe [Bryant], Lebron [James], Chris Paul, Dwight Howard. If you’re following the game, you want to see the best players in every game and that’s what you’re following. To have a local hero is a nice addition to our business and we’ll take it in every country we can, but it’s not critical to our success.


20140917_JamieReigle_300Jamie Reigle/Manchester United: Park Ji-sung was obviously with us for a very long period of time and more recently Shinji Kagawa was with us for a shorter period of time and I think both those cases are illustrative of star players in big markets in Korea and Japan.


In Park’s case, he had a long period of success at Manchester United. He may not have been seen as a star player, but he was seen as a key part of the team, gained huge respect and was the first Asian to make an impact at the club. In the case of Kagawa, also a fantastic player, but was with the club for a shorter period.


Regards the players, there’s an initial increased level of interest in the club in those markets after the signing, but we always tell sponsors in any market that we’ll always put a team on the pitch that has the potential to win any tournament and it’s extremely hard to get into that team. True, I’d love to have a Chinese player or an Indonesian player, but that’s not going to happen any time soon. If we were to have a player from any of those markets, then good, but we don’t spend any time thinking about it from a business point of view.


20140917_MikeKerr_300Mike Kerr/Asian Tour: From an Asian Tour perspective, we’re somewhat different, as most of our athletes and personalities are Asian. All sport is personality driven, so we’re able to have that authentic communication with fans in Asia due to the relationships with the players from their nations.


That strong bond we have with the players and personalities on the tour is something that sponsors are not just willing to tap into but something they desire.


I think more and more that brands are understanding that the relationship is incredibly important and it’s not – in all due respect – about shirt sales. It’s about a two-way dialogue we have with our fans in each market and that dialogue is being fuelled and supported by the athletes we’re promoting on the Asian Tour.


Looking at sport through the lens of content, can you think of a specific example in your sport of a way that a sponsor’s brand experience has been integrated into your content?


Mike Kerr/Asian Tour: If I could start with the sport of golf, we’re in a unique position compared to my esteemed colleagues here in that golf or golf production lends itself very easily to the integration of brand and messages. That’s part of our DNA and what we do week in, week out, whether it’s for a tourism authority or putting across a very specific message.


I can give you a specific example. At last year’s Venetian Macau Open, we had Lamborghini as one of our sponsors and we were working with the tourism authority, so we put one of our presenters in the car and filmed her travelling around Macau, pointing out the Macau landmarks. We then cut that film and integrated that footage into the live coverage in a way that’s seamless and meaningful to the fan – and also not to have a blatant brand message, such as ‘Buy my Lamborghini’.


Ryan Sandilands/WTA: Jenni Lewis of SAP was talking earlier about the integration of their data and statistics with the WTA, and we use this to enhance the fan experience – not get in the way of it – and give them an enriched experience.


Scott Levy/NBA: For us, we’re a content company first. Every sponsorship we have includes content, so it could be as simple as Cisco and using their technology to interview the players. Or if they’re travelling abroad, they use Cisco technology to report back to their own TV channel or to NBA TV.


We also have a partnership with Samsung where we incorporate tonnes of content from all their devices and given them unique content that they can share with fans. It has to be part of every partnership.


Jamie Reigle/Manchester United: Chevrolet is a global business, but there are particular markets that are quite important to them. They wanted to a run a set of activations and campaigns that really brought to life the concept of the players playing for fans, so they selected mascots from important markets around the world for Chevrolet. It generated a huge amount of content and we pushed it out on all our social media channels.


It was an interesting story about all these children who had never been to Old Trafford before. Those children then walked out with the 11 starting players in our first home game last month and instead of Wayne Rooney having ‘Rooney’ on the back of his shirt, his shirt had the name of the child beside him. This generated a huge amount of content. That’s an example of a sponsor who most people associate with just getting visibility on the front of the shirt, but actually did a really interesting activity that pulls in markets around the world.


More to come …

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