Branding through sports

  • Business
  • Saturday, 18 Jul 2009

SPORTS marketing is gaining popularity in Malaysia and has a huge growth potential here.

“Fast-moving consumer goods companies, like Coca-Cola, are quite aggressive in sports marketing globally, while telcos are very active in sports marketing in Malaysia,” ESPN Star Sports advertising sales senior vice-president Charles Less says, adding that the investment amount depends on the brand’s demographics.

The commercial success and acceptance of sports marketing have made it popular in the Western countries.

Sports marketing can be done through placing advertisements in sports pages in newspapers and magazines, commercials on TV, and sponsorship in sports events and more.

In the West, there are even academies that provide professional certification programmes in sports marketing and associations set up to promote sports marketing, such as the Sport Marketing Association, founded in Columbia.

Less says advertisers and marketers see sports sponsorship and marketing as an important tool to reach consumers nowadays.

“The first priority for marketers in sponsorship in sports marketing is getting the exposure and it can help in promoting the brand,” he tells StarBizWeek in an interview.

Less says companies can get an association with something that is good with the investment in sports marketing as sports are “where magic happens and are full of happiness.”

“Marketers are getting positive brand experiences and this might help them to increase their sales,” he says, adding that the marketers can also invest in sports marketing by creating new game events.

Less points out that being clear about the company’s objective is essential when marketers are going for sports marketing and sponsorship. Objectives can include raising the brand’s profile or reaching out to as many people as possible.

He adds that certain companies also place event logos on their products through the sponsorship to attract buyers.

He says knowing the target market is important in sports marketing as it is not necessarily targeting the mass market.

“Rolex is sponsoring golf games as it is targeting the group with high disposable incomes,” he says.

Someone might have a misperception that the target market for sports marketing is mostly men. Less corrects that by saying that it caters to women as well and that between 45% and 47% of ESPN Star Sports’ viewers are women.

There is no official figure for the market size available currently, but he says the growth over the last 10 years in sports marketing was about 300% globally.

ESPN Star Sports is a complete sports broadcaster and content provider that showcases a variety of live sports events from around the globe 24 hours a day to a cumulative reach of more than 310 million viewers in Asia.

It has 17 networks covering 24 countries and it has been in Malaysia for about 13 years. Malaysia is its number one market in South-East Asia in terms of revenue. It has between 20 to 30 staff members in the country.

On the impact of the financial crisis on sports marketing, Less says it depends on the sport but the overall performance is still positive.

“It is always harder to get in clients and showing the value for marketers is always a challenge,” he says, adding that the company is starting to see some interesting advertisers in sports marketing.

Its clients in Malaysia include Maxis, Petronas, McDonald’s, Nokia, Toyota, Panasonic and Canon. “The majority of our clients are maintaining their budgets.”

Two Wheels Motor Racing Sdn Bhd promotions director Ron Hogg says sports marketing not only allows companies to communicate with their consumers on a one-to-one basis but it is also providing brand exposure through above-the-line and below-the-line media.

“Brand differentiation is another important factor that governs the effectiveness of sports marketing as marketers can open up a new avenue of advertising that will set them apart from their competitors,” he says.

He says this is a targeted and niche marketing as opposed to the shotgun approach of spending millions on passive forms of advertising that may or may not get the message through.

“Companies must first identify the avenues of exposure that they can expect to maximise when selecting the sports event to get involved in,” he says, adding that companies should choose sports events that are widely supported by the media and ideally have a guaranteed television exposure programme in place.

He says sports marketing works by literally banking on passion and leveraging on the passion that consumers have for sports.

“In this digital age, an event has become the ultimate platform to engage with a receptive audience, be it TV viewers, hospitality guests or spectators,” he adds.

Hogg says sports marketing delivers value through on-track or on-site branding exposure to spectators and brand exposure through TV and print media coverage.

“Marketers can go on-ground directly to their potential customers by establishing a presence in the promotional area, which is a key component in the value-delivery system of motor sports marketing.

“This is a good arena for product sampling and special introductory promotional campaigns,” he says.

According to Hogg, being involved in sports is a great opportunity to craft creative consumer activities that will further enhance brand loyalty.

However, he says, sports marketing in Malaysia has yet to reach its maximum potential.

Hogg says the challenge for the sports industry today is to attract the interest and involvement of companies and brands that are not traditionally associated with sports.

Two Wheels Motor Racing is the race promoter of the Petronas Asia Road Racing Championship.

From a marketer’s point of view, AirAsia regional head of branding and culture William Low says the company invests very substantially in branding and sponsorship related to sports when it sees a right fit.

“Through sports sponsorship, we can associate with like-minded global brands which can raise our profile tremendously and strengthen what we stand for as a brand,” he says.

Low says the company is able to connect emotionally with the masses through compelling sports events and enjoys good returns from most of its sponsorships.

“We will maximise sponsorship activation at all cost and we will continue to break new ground with each sport partnership we get into,” he says.

AirAsia is also using its planes as a tool in sports marketing via Manchester United, AT&T Williams F1 and Oakland Raiders global sponsorships, whereby it painted its planes to suit the games.

“We have extended sponsorships and support to individual athletes, teams and events both regionally and globally. The long list includes AT&T Williams, Oakland Raiders, Manchester United and Olympic Council of Malaysia,” he adds.

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