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Volume 6 No. 212
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Sportel: Panelists Share Strategies On How To Crack The Chinese Market

Sportel Asia panelists tackled the question Western companies have been grappling with for a decade: How do you build a successful sports brand in Asia? Execs from Japanese advertising agency Dentsu, NBA China and DFL Sports Enterprises, the commercial arm of the Bundesliga, three int'l companies who found success in Asia, spoke about localized content throughout the Asian market, the balance of traditional and digital media and maintaining a unified brand amongst an increasing number of digital options. DFL Sports Enterprises Managing Dir Jörg Daubitzer extolled the importance of maximizing reach in the global and specifically Asian market, while also localizing content. The Bundesliga’s recent five-year rights deal with Fox will see the league’s content broadcast through a pan-regional approach, rather than market-by-market. Daubitzer said, “The agreement we have with Fox is only a piece of the complete puzzle to build up the Bundesliga brand in China.” He said that although Fox has a large distribution reach, it is “able and willing to individualize content in every country,” creating a happy marriage of two approaches to content distribution. Bundesliga’s live matches and the programs around it will be in local languages, while at the same time, Daubitzer said, Fox will allow them to be on more platforms and reach a wider audience.

KEEP IT LOCAL: Dentsu Head of Int’l Rights Sales Shingo Shibuya shared the same vision for localizing content, especially for buyers that have a lower budget and scope. Dentsu has held the rights for the IOC for more than 30 years, and the ad agency often sees “difficulty for smaller federations to broadcast an event of such scale.” Shibuya said a multi-faceted approach compensates for lower budgets by “creating an advertising package that associates and connects the brand and sponsor in different ways.” Shibuya added that often the biggest question about new media is “how do you fund these digital services?” To help lesser-known sports and smaller federations localize digital activities, Shibuya explained that Dentsu packages the digital platforms together with sponsorships, that way “sponsors get benefits and then federations have the opportunity to localize it and create social media services or websites themselves.” He added that they can also customize media rights the same way, especially for big events like the Sochi Olympics and IOC properties. Shibuya: “It’s important to the IOC and federations." NBA Senior VP of Marketing Partnerships Michael Wandell offered a different approach to bringing localized content to the Asian market. Wandell said that the NBA has “explored and entertained the idea of doing a reverse game in the morning in the U.S.,” but the idea has not yet proved to be viable. Daubitzer said the Bundesliga has “discussed this internally, but it was a very short discussion.” Daubitzer: “Our DNA is to have a very strong domestic product.” He said that supporting fans all over the globe remains a priority, but that if it is taken “too far” it will “hurt the product and damage the success of media partners worldwide.”

THE DIGITAL APPROACH: Digital media is important to the equation, but finding the balance and the most strategic use is the key to building a brand, panelists said. Daubitzer emphasized that the Bundesliga’s plans include investing in its int'l product portfolio, and that its platforms such as YouTube and Twitter “are built up to help our media partners.” He gave the example of the league’s Japanese website that highlights Japanese players in the league, in the local language, and highly localized coverage. On the value of traditional media, Shibuya said, “I think it’s changing almost every year.” He said that digital media is especially important for int'l events in the Asian market, which aren’t shown live, allowing fans to access other means of coverage. Shibuya said sponsors do not want to only use live coverage; they are interested in how their own platforms can be integrated with the sports entities and events. Shibuya: “I think there needs to be a balance. It’s very difficult to balance these two, but everyone’s trying to do that.” Wandell agreed, “It’s impossible for us to ignore the market.” He said that research has shown advertising spending in China is down, but spending on digital has increased. Wandell: “Digital is only here to stay; it’s inevitable.” Daubitzer said, “It’s very important to reach the younger target groups and connect them to your product.” The young generation has grown up with this "new" technology, he said, and now there is an “opportunity as rights holder to reach the people whenever they want to be reached.” Especially in China, where he said China shows equal usage of TV, mobile and Internet for accessing sports content.

A UNIFIED STRATEGY: In an era when digital media is becoming more and more prevalent, panelists agreed that elements within the brand must remain unified, but that individual players, for example, can take advantage of the opportunities new media offers. Daubitzer said media and digital activities are “a good challenge to bring the players’, league’s and club’s interests together.” Daubitzer: “It’s a new field of opportunity.” However, in terms of grassroots activity, the responsibility and opportunity rests on the players. Daubitzer said that it is “very difficult to do things for the league from the grassroots side.” He said that the league’s goals must remain separate from those of the individual players. Wandell said, “Players see opportunity to capitalize on their own brand in China,” often through and supplemented by digital media. Kobe Bryant’s deal with Nike and Dwyane Wade’s with Li Ning, and all of the social media and online activation around these partnerships, point to the brand success that can be found using digital media.
Kristen Heimstead is a writer in Beijing.