Southeast Asia Sports Fans Prioritize Social Media

Southeast Asia and the 680 million people throughout the region were the discussion point for a panel at Sportel Asia in Singapore this week. The session covered everything from how to connect to fans in the region via social media, battling piracy among many different cultures, and more.

(l-to-r) Beatrice Lee, Lau Kok Keng, Elliot Renton, and Louis Boswell discussed the state of sports broadcasting in Southeast Asia.

From left: Beatrice Lee, Lau Kok Keng, Elliot Renton, and Louis Boswell discussed the state of sports broadcasting in Southeast Asia.

“The world today has become smaller and more connected, and, for an agency like MP & Silva, we need to get more creative and adapt our approach,” said Beatrice Lee, managing director, Asia Pacific, MP & Silva, of a quickly evolving marketplace. The challenge remains understanding how rights deals need to be managed to meet the unique needs of sports fans in various countries. For MP & Silva, that means more local offices with local staffs that can service local partners every day.

“The sports industry will continue to grow,” she said. “The digital world is the most exciting thing to happen, and it will keep growing for the next three to five years.”

The key, she added, is to work with the right digital platforms, produce quality content, work with the different stakeholders, and change with the digital wave.

“The digital platform is the next big opportunity for everybody across Southeast Asia,” she explained. “As connectivity increases, the amount of mobile devices has increased tremendously, and the quality of the content has also increased. So the habits of viewers are changing, and they are consuming content online, want more choices, and are more active and interactive, compared to content that is consumed passively.”

Social media, she added, is the digital platform that is most important across the region, and federations and local clubs are using the platform to promote local heroes.

“Once you know the local hero and athlete,” she said, “the popularity will come.”

Making the Most of Social
Elliot Renton, Grabyo’s Asia Pacific representative, is at the center of helping channels, federations, and clubs shift into social media and exploit video by creating delightful experiences for fans.

“We help clients ingest video content and then use our platform to share it across social-media platforms,” he explained. “There is a big gap in finding content on social platforms, and fans are very demanding and can be very fickle. So we work off of the good platforms that social-media companies have built.”

Video, he added, is important to social media because a video clip has a 150% greater chance of going viral than static content.

“You have to be where the millennials are going, and it is not always on owned-and-operated social-media platforms,” said Renton. “There is a lot of competition so you need to get the strategy right on a market-by-market basis.”

One important step in the social-media strategy is to make sure content is part of the platform’s native environment.

“Facebook wants you on Facebook,” he added, “so, if you drive engagement in their native environment, you are more likely to see it go viral and engagement levels go up.”

Content Protection
Lau Kok Keng, partner and head of intellectual property, sports and gaming practice, for law firm Rajaj and Tann Singapore, noted that digital platforms have made content easy to access but, at the same time, it can be expensive. And that, he said, fuels efforts to get content for free, which, in turn, hurts digital efforts.

“There is no reason to use digital platforms if you can’t make money on it,” he pointed out. “In the case of expensive rights that are only available via a subscription, the audience will work to find other, alternative ways to receive the signal, like via unauthorized decoder boxes.”

And then there is the related issue of ambush marketing at an event, whereby non-sponsors of an event look to gain exposure by doing things in full view of TV cameras covering an event.

“A lot of the issues boil down to educating the consumer and let them know it’s not always about getting content for free, but a good case in point was a couple of years ago when there was a bid for the FIFA World Cup rights in Singapore,” said Keng. The price paid for the EPL rights in Singapore was seen as a benchmark for the FIFA rights, and, when fans became concerned about not being able to watch the World Cup, the Internet was flooded with suggestions about how to watch the World Cup for free.

“Fan education is important as they don’t realize that, if the fans don’t pay the rightsholders, then the rightsholders won’t be able to produce the content, and then the sports industry is not able to pay the players that attract the crowds,” he explained. “So the first lesson to be shared is, people who want to consume content need to be responsible enough to do things the right way. But, in an area with populations as diverse as Southeast Asia, that is not always easy: some cultures advocate sharing of private property, and others don’t believe in keeping content away from those who don’t pay for it.”

What do you want to do with your rights?
Louis Boswell, SVP/GM, Southeast Asia, Eurosport/Discovery, said that, as more sports channels and platforms come to market, the question facing everyone is, what is it you want to do?

“At the end of the day, there is brand loyalty in sports, and the fans are dedicated to the event rather than the channel,” he explained. “So we want to be excellent at what we want to do and give the best possible experience to the viewer.”

In a world where people are accustomed to watching anything they want at any time, sports continues to hold a unique place, with people needing to shape their schedules around the events.

“TV still gives the best experience,” Boswell observed. “And, with the technology to have multiple camera angles, there is much more that can be done to improve the experience.”

One of the challenges in Southeast Asia is making sure there is room for sports that are not named football. Social-media lends itself to building communities around those sports.

“There are people who are passionate about cycling or badminton, and there are all levels of needs and passion,” said Boswell. “Things like Instagram with its 15-second videos are great for highlights, but rightsholders want to control the content because they are the ones who pay for the content. But there is a need to get some content out to get people excited about the sport.”

In fact, too much control can squeeze the life out of a sport, Boswell noted, citing baseball in Japan.

“Football faces the same danger, as the rights go from one walled garden to another walled garden,” he said. “But the world is changing, and we will need to embrace it and not fight it. You can cling to the old world or embrace that change. And that may mean different revenue streams and huge opportunities: just because the way content is delivered is disrupted does not mean the value becomes less. But monetizing it is a work in progress.”

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