Call to use sports to engage consumers

Ben Heyhoe Flint, CEO of Asia Sponsorship News, says many Asian brands are still hesitant about the option of sports sponsorship.
Ben Heyhoe Flint, CEO of Asia Sponsorship News, says many Asian brands are still hesitant about the option of sports sponsorship.PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

With so many brand names fighting for a slice of the consumer pie, it is no longer enough for them to simply create product awareness.

To become successful global names, brands have to engage and capture the hearts of their target consumers - to make them happy and willing to buy their products.

And one of the best ways to do so is through sports sponsorship, according to Ben Heyhoe Flint, chief executive officer of Asia Sponsorship News, a market intelligence service for Asian brands.

"Look at Singapore Airlines' sponsorship of the Formula One Singapore Grand Prix," the 41-year-old said yesterday. "If the spectators are having fun at the F1 races, then they are more open and receptive to advertising messages that SIA might send to them on their mobile phones, or on YouTube or Facebook channels."

He was speaking on the sidelines of the Sports Matters conference at Marina Bay Sands, where leading experts are discussing topics shaping the Asian sports industry scene.

According to figures from online statistics portal Statista, sports sponsorship revenue in Asia rose by about 15 per cent from US$10.68 billion (S$14.9 billion) in 2013 to US$12.33 billion last year.

Yet, Flint feels that many Asian brands are still hesitant about diving into sports sponsorship, preferring instead to stick to the more traditional advertising media such as print and broadcast.

With more sports franchises and events from the Europe and North America markets seeking a foothold in the Asian market, brands are spoilt for choice on where to put their sponsorship money.

The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) has a five-year deal to hold its season-ending WTA Finals in Singapore, bringing a well-known event to South-east Asia.

In its first Singapore edition last year, 93,000 fans watched the tournament at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, the most at the event since 2000. Meanwhile the wtatennis.com and wtafinals.com websites also saw a record 13,200,000 page views in that period, contributing to a huge success for both the WTA and its sponsors and partners.

Said the WTA Finals tournament director Melissa Pine: "We are very grateful that our partners... share the same vision and passion as we do and we were able to exceed expectations."

While Flint believes it is a positive sign that Asian brands can consider events like the WTA Finals Singapore or even less well-known football clubs like Spain's Valencia to sponsor, he also hopes the region will build up a culture of passionate support for sports events.

"Right now, there's no deep-rooted sports culture in most parts of Asia," he said. "That contributes to why brands are holding back in sports sponsorships, and hopefully that situation can improve."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 17, 2015, with the headline 'Call to use sports to engage consumers'. Print Edition | Subscribe