Marketing firms flock to Brazil
The 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics in Brazil have triggered a push by sports marketing agencies to open outposts in the fast-growing South American country.
IMG, Octagon, GMR Marketing, Momentum, Wasserman Media Group, SportsMark and Helios Partners are among the North American agencies that have opened offices or signed joint ventures in Brazil in recent months. Their hope is that hosting the world’s two biggest sporting events within two years will jump-start Brazil’s sports economy and that the country will go from being the center of the sports universe to having viable business long after the last ball is kicked and medal awarded.
Leading Momentum Sports in Brazil are (from left) Marcos “Mala” Lacerda, Chris Weil, Emerson Fittipaldi and Kevin McNulty.
Cameron Parsons, GMR Marketing’s managing director of international, added, “This is a once-in-a-lifetime, two mega sporting events happening two years apart. That provides ability to invest once and be rewarded twice. That’s driving the enormous interest to date.”
The agencies’ move into Brazil reflects a macroeconomic trend in the sports-obsessed country that has seen offshore money pouring into Brazil and some of the country’s wealthiest buying up foreign assets, like Burger King, purchased by Brazilian investment firm 3G Capital last year for $3.3 billion. However, portions of the marketing economy there are developing more slowly than some forecast. IEG notes that sponsorship growth in Central and South America during 2010 was 3.8 percent versus a forecast of 5.7 percent. Nonetheless, it is predicting growth of 5.6 percent for 2011, largely based on the coming World Cup.
Agencies ranging from IMG to Momentum are looking to capitalize on that growth. Brazil has a robust domestic sports marketing industry, but the North American agencies believe that they can lend expertise on the World Cup and the Olympics — two of sports’ most complex properties — to Brazilian and international sponsors. Several are moving into the market largely to support existing clients who do business with FIFA and the International Olympic Committee. But executives at all of the agencies said they plan to stay behind and work in the market long after the 2016 Summer Games.
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WPP partnered with soccer hero Ronaldo to enter the market, creating the sports marketing firm 9ine.
One challenge agencies face is the market’s skepticism about outsiders. There’s a sense in the country’s sports business industry that this is their time to shine and a fear that North American agencies are looking to swoop in, scoop up World Cup and Olympic business and then abandon the marketplace. Agencies have tried to address that through two strategies: signing joint ventures or buying a Brazilian agency, or setting up an operation staffed by Brazilians.
Wasserman Media Group, IMG, Momentum and Octagon took the former approach. In 2009, Wasserman Media Group became the first to take that step when it formed an alliance with Brazilian basketball agency Martin & Maffia.
IMG has been doing business in Brazil for 30-plus years, but it formed a joint venture called IMX last November with Eike Batista, said to be Brazil’s richest man, because the agency thought Batista could help it better understand the market.
“We never solved the puzzle down there and we were looking for a partner with resources and vast local knowledge — Batista certainly has all of that,” said IMG senior adviser Chuck Bennett, the man spearheading the agency’s Brazil business. While reluctant to provide specifics about IMG’s vision in the market, Bennett said he sees “a booming economy that will provide a long runway of opportunity beyond the two big events” in areas where IMG is strong, like golf, tennis and fashion.
IPG’s Momentum also signed a joint venture, but it partnered with a well-known Brazilian athlete to create Momentum Sports in Brazil. Legendary race car driver Emerson Fittipaldi will serve as one of the agency’s four chairmen.
“There’s great opportunity, not just because of the events coming but in finding ways to reach this new, digitally centered sports fan,” Fittipaldi said. “Large brands want to reach them, and we hope to help them get there in new ways.”
WPP adopted a similar strategy, partnering with Brazilian soccer star Ronaldo to create a sports marketing company called 9ine that launched last September.
Rather than partner with a Brazilian agency, IPG’s Octagon decided to buy one last year. It acquired B2S, a Rio-based sports marketing firm whose client roster includes the Brazilian national soccer team and Anheuser-Busch InBev subsidiary AmBev. Octagon President and CEO Rick Dudley said he expects to double the agency’s business this year.
Where all those agencies zigged, GMR Marketing, SportsMark and Helios zagged. Rather than buy or partner with a Brazilian agency, they’re setting up independent operations in the market. The advantage of doing so, executives said, is that they will have more operational control than they would if they had a partner.
GMR plans to base its operations in Sao Paulo and make the operations the hub for its Latin American business from Mexico to Chile. Parsons, who’s overseeing the effort, said the company is hiring local staff for the office and expects the operation to generate 20 percent to 30 percent of its business locally and the rest servicing existing clients like Visa and Procter & Gamble. The Omnicom Group agency will collaborate with sister agencies like BBDO and RAPP, a digital agency, that have a presence in the market.
SportsMark, another Omnicom agency, has adopted a similar strategy. It recently hired Kevin Smith, who worked on the X Games in Brazil for ESPN, to run its operations in Sao Paulo. The agency will sell hospitality packages for FIFA in North America and manage hospitality services for Visa during both the World Cup and Olympics. As it wins clients and projects, SportsMark President Keith Bruce said, it will add staff.
“We understand the international market and sports platforms of the World Cup and Olympics,” Bruce said. “If we can bring those into play with local expertise, then we’ll be in good shape.”
Atlanta-based Helios Partners is moving into the market in order to assist its existing client and new Olympic sponsor, Dow. It plans to open an office with its parent company, the Amaury Group, in Rio de Janeiro. It has hired one person and plans to hire two more. The group will be charged with servicing Dow and exploring opportunities to create new sports events in Brazil similar to the cycling and golf events Amaury hosts in France.
“Amaury had an interest in Brazil before the Olympics were awarded there,” said Helios Chief Operating Officer Chris Sanders. “This was the first opportunity we had to open up an office together.”
None of the agencies expects that building a business in Brazil will be easy, but several said the market has been more welcoming than one of the country’s BRIC brethren, Russia. After Sochi was awarded the 2014 Olympics, Russians were more skeptical of outside agency advice, while Brazilians, to date, have been more receptive to assistance.
Also, Brazil has “followed a similar path economically to China, but it’s been more broad-based, entrepreneurial growth in Brazil whereas China’s been more centrally planned growth,” Parsons said.
Dudley added, “All the BRIC countries are fast-growing, but Brazil is just the easiest one to do business in.”
As a result, many of the agencies are optimistic that their operations will thrive not only in the next five years but also in the years after the 2016 Olympics.
“People were surprised at the amount of substantive business that did not develop in Beijing,” said David Abrutyn, global managing director of IMG Consulting. “I don’t think, when all is said and done, they will say the same about Brazil.”