Innovation. Ideas. Insight.

The (Sports Marketing) World is Flat: FIFA World Cup 2002 – South Korea/Japan

In TSMWIF on April 25, 2008 at 2:52 pm

Fourteen of the first 16 FIFA World Cup tournaments were held in either South America or Europe (with Mexico and the U.S. being the exceptions). For the 2002 event, FIFA, the world governing body of the sport, made the unprecedented move of not only awarding the tournament to Asia, but also having it hosted jointly by two countries. The decision was favorably received not just by the Asian Football Confederation and its members, but also by FIFA’s marketing partners who would be able to showcase their brands in new, emerging markets and territories.


Certainly the region had seen major events in the past, with both South Korea and Japan hosting Olympiads in the last 20 years. But this time around it was different in several ways. First, the geography of the event made traditional media channels – print and broadcast – a difficult proposition for fans in the United States, Europe and Africa. But unlike previous major sporting events in held in Asia, broadband and mobile phone technology allowed fans to have instantaneous information regardless of their location. The second critical factor coming out of the 2002 FIFA World Cup was the beneficial knock-on effect it had for “non-traditional” locales and their opportunity to host global events. Last year the West Indies hosted the ICC Cricket World Cup for the first time. In 2008 Beijing will host the Olympics for the first time and in 2010 South Africa will host the FIFA World Cup for the first time.


What does this mean for marketers? Access to new markets is only valuable if you have the distribution to service this new pool of consumers. But even then, simply throwing open your doors, whether they be of the brick and mortar or virtual variety, is only part of the solution. Considerable consumer education may be necessary, and traditional advertising may not be enough. New consumers will need to be courted through a variety of channels. Being a sponsor of an event that engages consumers through their passions is a strong proposition, made even more so by leveraging public relations. Brand ambassadors, consumer events and online engagement can all help build brand awareness and affinity, which can lead to true business building impact.


Just as important as the consumer education is the brand education. Understand the needs and limitations of a new consumer segment as well as you’ve studied the new opportunities. You may even need to adjust your product to fit local customs and economics.

  1. There is some debate going on in the UK at present regarding the ethics of staging the Olympics in China, given its less than favourable record on human rights and tackling climate change.

    On one side there are those who say it is is morally wrong for the Olympics to take place in Beijing and we should not allow China such a high profile on the world stage; on the other hand there are those who maintain we simply don’t have the right to lecture China given our collective and on-going failings.

    Should business be taking note of this type of debate and adapting their sponsorship or other commercial activity accordingly?
    Or, is the potential that China and its fast-growing economy provides too good an opportunity pass up?
    Is there a comfortable balance to be struck?
    Is it naive to think such questions even enter the thoughts of those in boardrooms around the world?

    There are also some questions about staging the Fifa World Cup in South Africa given the economic pressures in the region at present.
    Yet, there is a strong case for saying staging such a global event could help kick-start a wide-ranging economic revival.

  2. In a morally black & white universe the answers to these questions become clearer, but there are so many variables. Between sponsors, governments and the International Olympic Committee there are multiple agendas.

    I think, to some degree, the marketplace decides the issue. Consumers have several choices in how to express there feelings, whatever they may be, on this issue, and that ultimately will have sway on the parties involved.

    Full disclosure, the agency I work for is involved with one of the US Olympic sponsors, though I am not involved with the project directly.

  3. Thanks Rick,

    From a purely commercial point of view the Beijing Games represents a massive opportunity and I fully understand why companies would want to be associated with them. You’re right about the variables. If life was full of simple questions and problems then it would be far easier – and probably a whole lot more boring too!

    I have a vested interest too (sort of). I’ve been a complete Olympics nut since the Montreal games way back when and I love every single minute of it – particularly those sports that don’t normally get a lot of TV exposure. But I support a Reporters Without Borders campaign regarding media coverage of the Beijing Games, so I’m wondering how I reconcile the two. Like the hypocrite I am, the Games is winning at the moment.

    (PS: As a cricket fan you might be interested in what is happening at Glamorgan CC in the UK. It has just broken the monopoly on Test venue status and the Glamorgan CC ground in Cardiff will host the first Ashes test between England and Australia in 2009. The club has just redeveloped its main stadium, within budget and deadline, and is attempting to instil a lot more business sense in English cricket. With everything that is happening in India at present, suddenly people in the UK are starting to realise there is a need to shake things up. Glamorgan are ahead of the rest in so many respects –

  4. I’m still blown away by how massively underdeveloped (from a marketing standpoint) sport in the UK is. Now some would argue that’s a good thing, and I appreciate that sentiment. There are plenty of times when I could live without all the commercial interests and media hype. But living in the world we live in, many EPL, Guinness Prem and CC clubs are woefully underdeveloped. I think that is why you see so many US and other foreign investors jumping in now.

  5. British sport is quite a confused and confusing place.
    Some of our footballers and rugby players are amongst the highest paid in their professions and yet the clubs that employ them are still either run as glorified amateur committees or the plaything of one very rich benefactor.
    The culture change that is required is very hard for some to take and the American “invasion” in football, for example, is viewed by a lot of people with deep suspicion.
    But the likes of Randy Lerner at Aston Villa FC (in Birmingham, the UK’s second largest city) has won over supporters quite simply – he’s helped to bring some relative success to an under-achieving club.

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