Three sports marketing professionals take to the stage to talk “passion, pride, and profit” at The Economist’s Marketing Unbound conference in Hong Kong. Melissa Pine is Vice-President of the Women’s Tennis Association; Charles Allen is Head of Marketing at Arsenal FC; and Daniel Beatty is General Manager of Greater China for Red Bull.
- Sport commands vast audiences
Red Bull is active as a beverage brand, a sports brand, and a music brand, but Beatty believes that sport best represents what Red Bull does; energise people. “If a brand isn’t involved in sports, it’s very difficult to connect with millennial consumers,” he says. “The only appointment viewing that’s happening on television is sports.” Case in point; over 70 per cent of wealthy Chinese males are likely to watch a live sporting event.
Beatty notes that, among millennials, the fastest growing and most viewed of these categories is e-sports, presenting an array of new opportunities. Much like RedBull was able to get in at the grassroots of campus cricket in India, e-sports offer an exciting new playing field for brands, with space to build communities and engage audiences from the get-go. “If you can get in as a brand with the sportscasters,” says Beatty, “the halo effect is so tremendously positive.”
RedBull sometimes struggles to turn “brand love into can love”, a challenge which is also familiar to Charles Allen, Head of Marketing at Arsenal FC. He meets the “biggest Arsenal fan” a few times a day, he says, and sure, they watch the team on TV and read about them online — but they don’t register or buy. Beatty says that Red Bull monetises other areas, like media and events , in order to “engage fans for longer in a more analytical way.”
- Sport’s reach is wider than ever before
Thanks to a heavy amount of investment coming into Asia with a focus on inspiring the next generation, Pine notes that tennis is now perceived as an aspirational sport, especially among young people. Football, on the other hand, has undergone a global democratisation, says Allen. Once considered a working class sport, it now enjoys incredible stadiums, reflecting huge diversity in season ticket offerings, and by extension, diversity of fans.
- Sport can reflect your brand values
Some brands might be reticent to team up with athletes; previous sporting scandals have shown that the backlash can be pretty damaging. “Of course there’s risk,” says Allen, “but there’s risk in sponsoring pop stars, sports stars, any stars!”
“It’s not about one or two players,” says Pine, “it’s about your brand and what you stand for, and partnering with other brands that share that common vision and the same messages and goals.” The WTA was founded on the principles of equality and empowerment, to break barriers and promote health and wellness, and as Pine explains, it looks for exactly the same qualities and dedication in its prospective business partners.
“43 years ago, when Billie Jean King signed a $1 contract to earn a living playing tennis, I don’t think anyone realised where we’d be today, where athletes are competing for $138,000 in prize money per year,” she says. “I think there’s an amazing story to be told in women’s tennis, and it’s about partnering with brands that share that.”