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Volume 10 No. 25
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Octagon Asia's Sandilands Talks About The Company's Initiatives In Asia

Octagon Asia, with offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Tokyo, Singapore and Seoul, has increased its footprint in Asia in the recent past, focusing mostly on its consulting and events businesses. Octagon Asia continued the company’s long-standing relationship with Mastercard with the naming of the Mastercard Center in Beijing, one of the biggest naming-rights deals ever in China. Also in China, the company worked with Northface to turn its Northface 100 into the largest endurance-running event in Asia, this year attracting more than 9,000 people. In South Korea, Octagon Asia facilitated construction company Doosan’s sponsorship of the British Open. Octagon Asia's Beijing-based Managing Dir RYAN SANDILANDS recently talked with SBD Global Staff Writer Kristen Heimstead about the company's operations and plans for the Far East.

Q: What is the biggest cultural challenge you face in your job?
Sandilands: Language is obviously key, but the conversations that happen before the meeting starts and just after it ends, where the translator isn’t there or it’s small talk that doesn’t necessarily translate, that’s a time when you’re often able to get to know your client a lot deeper and you get to understand them personally. That’s tough not being able to participate in that aspect sometimes.

Q: What is the biggest area for growth in your business?
Sandilands: I think it’s in the consulting side, developing sponsorship strategy. For international brands coming into China, Chinese brands in China and also Chinese brands going abroad. …The Chinese government is encouraging the major Chinese brands to go forth and promote themselves abroad by way of representing “brand China.”

Which country within Asia do you think is the most advanced in the sports business space?
Sandilands: I would probably say Japan. It’s quite controlled, but it’s developed. They have their football league, their baseball league – their golf activity has been established for many years. They’ve just been at it for longer. They’ve been exporting their talent longer, importing talent and having international events taking place in the country longer than any other country in Asia. Considering all of these factors, they’re the most established.

Q: Which league or event in Asia do you foresee growing the most in the next five years?
Sandilands: I would love to say football in China. I think football in Asia has a great chance, and I’m a huge fan of the Asian Champions League. I think the potential for that to grow is huge. From a sports marketing perspective, if you’re speaking to a marketing director with Asia Pacific responsibility and you have an annual competition as an ongoing annual asset, that hits a large number of markets that fall within that marketing director’s reach.

Q: Do you think that the CSL and CBA will eventually have the potential to compete with teams in the U.S. and Europe?
Sandilands: I think they’re so far behind that it’s almost impossible for them to catch up because it’s not as though the major Western leagues are standing still. They continue to grow and expand and innovate. And as they try to expand their fan base as well, then you have the Asian leagues that are doing the same thing, and they’re not expanding at a faster pace. The gap is so big in the first place, I think that the CSL and the CBA will always be domestic leagues.

Q: How does censorship in China limit the growth of sports business or the work you do in China?
Sandilands: Censorship doesn’t really impact us on the sports side. We’ve never had anything blocked. Ultimately what we’re trying to do in sport in general is very positive. It’s part of the government’s five year plan in terms of encouraging more participation in sport and encouraging people to be healthier and to be fitter…it’s all moving in the same direction as the government wants it to move.

Q: Why is it that the sports business space in Asia is less dense?
Sandilands: I think it’s not as developed, but I think that the fan experience will catch up quickly – not to the extent that you’re going to have thousands of people tailgating outside of a CSL game, but I think that as more people travel and more international brands get involved in sports, then they’ll look to import ideas that have worked elsewhere. Then they’ll ask, “Would this work in China? Japan? Does it need to be adapted to fit with a slight difference in the local market?” I think that companies will make long-term investments and commitments to sport. It’s just about the market being at an early stage of development.

Read more of the Q&A.