Chasing the Asian Century dream: The Asian Cup's commercial potential
In my last blog I looked at the role sport, especially soccer as the world and Asia's most popular sport, could play in fostering closer commercial ties between Australia and Asia in the Asian Century.
With the AFC Asian Cup tournament to be hosted in Australia less than two years from now, now is the perfect time for Australian businesses to start looking at the potential commercial opportunities an even of this size might bring.
Making the Asian Cup a success on Australian soil will go some way to boosting the profile of Australia and its businesses to an audience of hundreds of millions in soccer-mad Asian countries.
Here are a few of the ways this success could be achieved.
Regardless of whether the target market is a football follower or not, a segmentation strategy should always underpin a marketing strategy.
Sometime ago, when working with the South Coast Football Club A-League bid group, I developed a marketing plan which included a detailed marketing segmentation strategy.
In summary, the way we would target families differed from how we would target students, working professionals, the commercial market, and so forth. This would then be overlayed with two different messages: to football followers and non-football followers within these segments.
For example, the underlying message and value drivers to attract families might be based on providing a fun family day out, doing so in a safe environment, and giving children the opportunity to attend a once in a lifetime event which they will remember for years to come. However, for teenage students, the key message for non-football followers might be around having fun with friends, or for football followers, it could be aspirational.
There are many ways to construct a segmentation strategy, most commonly based on demographics and geography.
Given the international nature of the Asian Cup, in particular the Asian communities and cultures involved via their teams participation, one of the most important elements for the tournament is to directly target these cultural groups.
Working with local, state or national-based groups and individuals such as chambers of commerce, organisers of cultural events and community leaders therefore provides a direct avenue to engage these diverse groups. Social media should also play a central part in this engagement strategy.
Execution-wise, this may include engaging audiences at cultural events, speaking directly to leaders on the benefits the tournament can bring to the community, or creating direct marketing material and information packages in various languages, whilst ensuring key messages take into consideration important values of that specific culture, whether it be the importance of supporting your country, or focusing on tradition or friendly rivalries.
Creating strategic partnerships (within the commercial constraints around exclusive industry partnerships and sponsorships) with organisations that already do this extremely well, such as the telco and banking industry, can also assist in achieving cut through and raising awareness.
One idea which was used to great effect during the IRB Rugby World Cup 2003 (hosted by Australia) and the FIFA 2010 World Cup (hosted by South Africa) was the creation of "home hubs".
During both these events the Darling Harbour precinct in Sydney was turned into a fan zone. Clubs and bars suddenly became home hubs to the Romanians, Argentineans, and South Africans. Supporters would pour in and mingle with not only fellow countrymen and women who wouldn't usually watch the sport, but even those whom had no affiliation to the country whatsoever, but were simply there for the colour, bright lights, and the spectacle.
Whilst this may seem counter-intuitive in the aim of getting people through stadium gates, it is an essential part of creating a home away from home, and increasing awareness and the "buzz" surrounding the tournament. If positioned well – i.e. as a meet up place for people to celebrate after attending matches, or to watch matches which they simply cannot get to – it can prove an extremely effective strategy and create a snowball effect amongst these communities.
And this shouldn't be limited to the capital cities. Regional community centres, RSLs, cafes... what a way to stand out from the crowd!
Importantly, the overarching message communicated via events and any direct or through the line marketing campaign should not only focus on supporting one's specific country, but also inherently promote the benefits to the Asian region as a whole on the world stage, effectively looking to build on the proud traditions of the people of Asia.
Ticketing and pricing
All the above considerations roll into what is probably the most important element of hosting a major event – ticketing.
Key considerations around ticketing and pricing include covering the operating budget and achieving a certain level of return on investment for the AFC and tournament organisers; consideration of ticket allocations to sponsors and corporate; rewarding football club members and supporters for their loyalty; and generating enough demand to fill seats, without creating the perception that you are giving them away.
For what could be perceived as a simple process from the outside, all of these elements come together to form an extremely delicate and exhausting one!
Learnings from past major events, such as last year's 2012 London Olympic Games, provide some evidence of what can happen when this formula is constructed somewhat incorrectly, with some Games events providing less than 50% of tickets up for sale to the general public, whilst the rest were reserved for the Olympic "family", some of which did not even attend, resulting in a number of empty seats and the resulting controversy.
Whilst this is a consideration for the Asian Cup, this may be much less an issue than that of ticket pricing, which ensures that all relevant target segments are willing and able to purchase tickets whilst also ensuring demand is generated for those matches, and locations, deemed less desirable.
In turn this should be considered in light of the sensitivities of possibly offending certain groups due to a tiered ticketing structure, which may benefit one group over another.
Ideally, concessions – or advanced ticketing for more popular matches – would be offered to A-League club members as a reward for their support of the national competition. This could also have the positive effect of increasing A-League club membership as a means to gain this status.
Other ideas would be to provide a similar offer to registered junior players, although once again instead of going down the traditional discounting road, a strategy could be to offer free entry to one child, on a paid ticket. This would drive down the cost for families with more than one child attending, may assist in junior football club recruitment drives in order to gain this status, whilst also having the ability for Asian Cup organisers to gain a snowball effect amongst friends, families, and perhaps even entire junior teams.
Families and affordability is a major consideration, given the potential cost barrier for a family to attend such an event if deemed unaffordable. In this instance, research and benchmarks should be used to find the right 'tipping point'.
Similarly when considering the sub-segment of non-football followers or participators, cost is a major consideration compared and considered next to other forms of leisure activities. Ultimately, this would be weighed up against the attractiveness of the 'event' and the ability to walk away from a match satisfied with all of the non-football drivers.
As a final example, when considering key cultural and community groups, the derived benefit needs to be all-inclusive. Whilst the right ticket pricing strategy needs to be adhered to – and depending on the cultural group in question this may in fact represent the biggest price sensitivities – just as important is the ability to win their hearts and minds of key groups and individuals by providing the right atmosphere (i.e. home bases, cultural entertainment at venues) whilst appealing to their sense of community, at a country and regional level.
Ticketing and pricing must be one of the central focuses of the Asian Cup, indeed the foundation onto which the rest of the tournament marketing strategy is built. Otherwise, the risk is that the marketing strategy may become redundant if people have already decided they are not walking through the gates due to a perceived or in fact justified cost barrier.
So whilst primary and secondary research (including feedback from industry stakeholders such as venues) should become a cornerstone of achieving this balance with regards to ticket pricing, this should also be considered in context with some of the important non-football value drivers, respective to the target group.
Asia is rising. Here's hoping over the next two years an Australian-led Asian Cup will once again show we have what it takes to rise with the best of them.
Nic Ferraro is the founder and managing director of the Sports Business Insider website - the leading, independent online source of news, analysis, opinion and information on events on the business side of sport.