Owen Leed, Chief Revenue Officer for TSA (Total Sports Asia), talks to SportAsia about the inaugural Sports Matters conference in Singapore, digital opportunities, specialising in Asian-centric sports, untapped markets and how to properly deliver for sponsors.
SportAsia : Did Sports Matters achieve what you hoped it would?
I think it achieved a lot for a first event of its sort and there were more people at Sports Matters than I’ve seen at any sports-related conference in Asia for some years.
The mix of people was right. However, the mix of people was reflective of the lack of experience in Asia around the whole subject of sponsorship in particular. I’m going to be very blunt about that – there weren’t enough Asians in the mix. But the mix of people were fundamentally right in terms of property owners, broadcasters, agencies and the whole list of sectors within the industry. I think the show is going to go a long way.
For me personally, I had some very interesting offline conversations with people at St Regis, many of whom are competitors, but we’re all trying to grab a slice of the same pie, so let’s agree how we try to do it, then get on with it. All in all, it ticked all the boxes for me, it was a good thing and I hope we can do it again.
SportAsia : What about the range of topics this year? Is there anything in particular you’d like to see included next year?
I think the whole Asian Sponsorship Association could be a big topic. That could be a conference in its own right if the association gets started, which would be good.
I think we could have gone deeper into some of the topics we discussed. Digital was explored a lot, but I’d like to see people get down and dirty on the topic. We all talk a good talk, but how is it really going to work? How are we going to balance the consumers from 14 to 60 who are watching things across different platforms?
For example, the point was made that 75 per cent of the world are still accessing content through 2G, yet most people are producing such high-quality content that isn’t reaching that market which is arguably where the money is in terms of mass following of sport – like in China, India, Africa, which is about 3.5 billion or 4 billion people. We need to spend more time discussing these sorts of things.
We were all saying that for a first show, albeit a year in the planning, they’ve done the show well. The format was good. The use of people with different years of experience and backgrounds and disciplines was even better, as it wasn’t just the same panellists. People were well prepared in advance to go the distance on a section, which was good. It was very slick.
SportAsia : There were over 400 people this year. Do you expect there to be more next year?
I think 95 per cent of the people this year will be back next year, plus perhaps another 100 or 150 people. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was to be 500 people next year, just through word of mouth.
SportAsia : What was TSA looking to get out of the show and what do you think the whole industry should be doing and improving?
Everything that TSA is doing, as evidenced by the conversations over the two days, is right. We’re right at the front of every category we’re in, whether it be media distribution, partnerships leveraging activation, the whole thing.
Where we’re all going to face a challenge – and this is particularly relevant for my role – is to act as the agencies we should be for our clients who are spending money. Not necessarily for the properties we own or are related to, but in the way that Giles Morgan [of HSBC] was speaking about – we need to understand the client’s brief, their strategy, their objectives, what they want to do.
My role, particularly at TSA, is to extract that out of people and attach a budget to it, to deliver back to clients what they’ve asked for; not to retro-fit something that we bought two years ago. I think that’s a challenge that faces anybody who’s not dedicated to one specific property, because we have multiple properties.
Another interesting challenge is the value of rights and how they’re going to keep growing. They’re going to have to stop growing at some point, because people’s budgets are finite. I think there will be a re-adjustment in certain places. My personal view is that properties like in soccer and the English Premier League are off the planet. Brands can’t afford that kind of money, but that’s a personal opinion.
SportAsia : But overall, you’re positive about the future of the sports industry?
Definitely. Oh, definitely.
SportAsia : Beyond existing markets, do you believe there are untapped areas, both in countries, such as China, and sectors?
People say China and yes, they’re right. China is a huge opportunity. But it’s so complex, so fraught with difficulty, borne of where it has come from – the bureaucracy, the sheer skulduggery that goes on to try to get a deal done – yet we must all keep working it because China’s almost 1.5 billion people and where the market is.
From where I sit in Kuala Lumpur and have done for the last 10 years, Indonesia is on our doorstep. It’s 300 million people, the largest Muslim country on the planet. I say that not as a qualifier of any sort other than that certain products may work or not, or certain categories of sponsorships may not work or not.
I think we need to look sequentially at where the untapped markets are. If you combine Cambodia and Vietnam, while they may not be huge in terms of population, they’re hungry for good content and really good deals can be done in these pockets around the region.
The Philippines has everything from baseball to soccer to American-centric sports that we might not look at in Euro-centric parts of Asia. The pie is not finite, but the pie will keep growing, especially as middle-class incomes keep growing in places like Asia. More people will jump on, but there’s space for everyone to make an adequate living. Yes, there will be crossovers, people will win and lose pitches, but that’s part of why we all do it. We’re all sales people one way or another, and that’s part of the fun.
SportAsia : IMG and WSG are two of the bigger sports marketing companies operating in Asia and between them they focus a lot on golf, football, tennis and the more traditional major sports. Is it fair to say TSA specialises in sports that weren’t traditionally well represented in the sports marketing field?
I think TSA and Marcus [Luer] in particular have done a tremendous job in specialising in the lesser-known global sports, but they have been very clever in focusing on sports that have a great appeal in Asia, such as badminton, table tennis, squash and fight sports. There have been some classic examples like that and some of these are Asian-centric sports. I recently had a conversation with an American who had no idea that the number one and two in the world in men’s badminton are Malaysian and Chinese respectively.
TSA has been very good in that niche, but TSA is now breaking outside of Asia. The simple fact we call ourselves TSA now, and not the long-form Total Sports Asia, is because we’re in different markets, selling to people all over the world and while it all traces its roots back to sport as our core discipline, it may not necessarily be in sport, but even real estate.
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