February 11, 2013

Chasing the Asian Century dream: The Asian Cup’s commercial potential (Part One)

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January this year marked two years until the launch of the AFC Asian Cup Australia 2015, the tournament to be held across Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT from January 9 – 31.

The pinnacle event in Asian football and the regions equivalent to the UEFA European (Euro) Football Championship (arguably in the top 3 of single sporting events globally) is held every four years, and the chance to host such an event on home soil provides for the first time a number of unprecedented commercial, cultural, social and economic opportunities as a flow on effect from the 32 game schedule.

According to Asian Cup Local Organising Committee (LOC) CEO Michael Brown, apart from celebrating Asia’s rich football culture and leaving an enduring legacy for the game in Australia, the Asian Cup “presents an outstanding opportunity for Australia to strengthen our cultural, social and economic ties with Asia, including some of our most important trading partners.”

Mr. Brown also states “The Federal Government’s Asian Century White Paper acknowledged the power of sport to bridge language and cultural barriers and serve as a platform to build relationships. It confirms that events like the Asian Cup offer opportunities for Australia to build on our international reputation for delivering major sporting events, and to promote Australian tourism, trade and other interests in Asia.”

Of course, the ability to leverage the Asian Cup across these important areas requires the delivery of a successful event, measured across a number of key criteria with one of, if not the most important, being ticket sales, or quite simply, getting bums on seats.

The challenge? Whilst the Socceroos national football team is one of the most popular brands in Australian sport, with their matches sure to be a sell-out, how do you convince the Australian general public and commercial stakeholders to attend and embrace matches between the likes of Bahrain and Kuwait, or Oman and Syria?


Engage the Current Football Fraternity

The first and most obvious route is to engage the current football fraternity. This includes working with current professional, semi-professional and non-professional football clubs and governing bodies.

Football is the biggest participation team sport in Australia with over 450,000 registered players. This rises to 700,000 when considering participants in organised football competition with clubs and schools affiliated to the sport’s national governing body and over 1.2 million when you consider non-affiliated or informal participants like church-based competitions or corporate or social leagues, according to a Roy Morgan poll conducted.

Working with current A-League clubs, state and local bodies, the Asian Cup LOC must leverage this current member database, utilising a “ready to go” market which gives football a significant competitive advantage over other professional sporting codes in Australia.

In terms of messaging, a single, unified message should be adhered to, one that not only speaks to the football passion of these members of the football fraternity but also communicates the lasting legacy which the Asian Cup is sure to bring to football in Australia, not only at an A-League level, but through all levels of football in terms of player development, infrastructure, education, sponsorship and funding.

This message should be built around the excitement and euphoria, the opportunity to attend a possible once in a lifetime event, the chance to cement our status as a country able to pull off a successful, globally viewed football event, particularly in the face of failing to land the 2018 or 2022 FIFA World Cup.

On a national stage, the football fraternity is all too aware of the challenges such an intimidating sporting market place presents, as one of the only countries with five main sporting codes competing for the mind and hearts of fans.

Football supporters should see this as an opportunity to compete with the best teams in Asia, increase our status within Asia and on a global scale, and hence improve our ability to attract the best players and coaches from around the world, gaining a competitive advantage by giving football the best opportunity to hit the front and back pages of mainstream media.

The final ‘hook’ for football followers is the ability to reward them as avid participators from the very beginning, and so achieving a relevant pricing and ticketing structure specifically for the football fraternity should be a consideration, which will be discussed further on in this piece.


Engage Non-Football Followers

The more difficult task is to make the hard sell to the general public and commercial market who are either non-football followers or participators (i.e. those who do not follow, support or have a commercial involvement is football but rather are involved with other sports codes) or those who do not have an interest or involvement in any sport at all.

The key here is to appeal to those who are interested in the ‘entertainment’ value of the Asian Cup tournament, those who would go along for the spectacle or to be part of a major event, rather than simply to watch the results on the pitch.

There have been a number of examples where this approach has been used locally to positive effect.  For example, during Australia’s hosting of the IRB Rugby World Cup 2003, a couple of matches were held in my hometown of Wollongong in NSW – a regional area traditionally considered a rugby league and football heartland. However during the tournament, I attended a match between Canada and Tonga at WIN Stadium, if for no other reason, than simply to say “I was there”.

Similarly, many found themselves purchasing (or at least applying for) tickets via a general lottery for the 2000 Sydney Olympics Games – without even knowing (or caring!) what event they would be attending.

And this is not only limited to sport. Recently I attended a popular music festival which featured bands I didn’t even know, simply to say I had been there, done that. Having spoken to some people on the subject, I know that I am not the only one.

A few years ago I wrote a paper for the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) where I coined the term “Share of Leisure Time and Wallet” with reference to winning the consumer in the sports and entertainment marketplace.

What I was referring to was the fact that everyone – whether it be individuals, couples, families or seniors – dedicates a certain amount of time AND money to spend on leisure activities as a sub-segment of their “disposable income” (i.e. what is left over after all their expenses are covered).

Similarly people have a limited amount of time, when you discount work and other commitments, which they can dedicate to leisure activities.

It is from this that the individual (or group) decides what they will spend their leisure time and money on, whether it is going to the movies, a show or a sporting event.

The key then, is to sell the Asian Cup to non-football or sports followers as a once in a lifetime event, a chance for people to say they want to be there to experience the atmosphere, the spectacle and the entertainment value that the tournament brings.

From a commercial perspective, Football Federation Australia (FFA) Chairman Frank Lowy put it best when he recently made the comment “It’s often hard for people who don’t love football to understand the magnitude of the game across the world.”

He went on to say that the Asian Cup would reach a TV audience of 2.5 billion people, in a region that is home to 80 million people who played the game, a number that would jump to 380 million by 2022.

Federal Trade Minister Craig Emerson also commented “Football is big business, and it’s a driver of business the world over. It’s also a potent vehicle for world diplomacy. Asia’s rise will continue… By 2025 the region would be home to four of the world’s largest 10 economies. The Asian Cup is an enormous opportunity to promote Australia’s brand.”

Therein lays the opportunity to sell the Asian Cup to a commercial market who traditionally does not follow or participate in football or sports, based not on the action on the field, but the benefits off it.

In Part Two, I will look at the marketing and ticketing strategies that could be used to ensure the success of the Asian Cup tournament in Australia.

This post originally appeared on Smart Company. You can see the original article here.


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