The expansion of popular domestic sports into new international markets is on the rise, with varying degrees of success. But marketing a sport in a new country is a long game. Here’s how some of the biggest local sports are making their mark on the world stage.
An American Invasion of the UK
The biggest sports league in the world, the US-based NFL, has made a loss on each of its games in the UK in the past 10 years. But in a Chicago Tribune report, NFL head of international development Mark Waller says that will change in the coming years, with increased marketing opportunities.
His outlook echoes the optimistic words of NFL head of operations in Britain Alistair Kirkwood, who states that the past decade’s venture has been a “deliberate loss leader”. In other words, an attempt to increase the intrinsic value of the brand, leading to greater marketing, sponsorship and commercial distribution dollars.
The Burning Question: Is It Working?
It looks like it is. The league has doubled its revenue from UK media rights since 2007, and the British fans seem to enjoy the sport. According to the Tribune, half of the fans at last year’s games had attended the year before, and a third of them bought tickets to the entire four-game series.
The NFL’s expansion may not stop on British shores, either. In an LA Times report, former Bronco’s quarterback Peyton Manning says expansion into China is a “no-brainer”. The popularity of meishi ganlanqiu (American-style football) in the country’s heartland is growing with the ascension of the China home-grown China Arena Football League.
Exporting AFL to Asia
Expansion into Asia isn’t unique to the NFL, with Australian Rules Football (AFL) also trying to stir up interest in this unique brand of football in recent years.
A limited marketing foray into China last year secured a local television distribution deal just days before the game, where Port Adelaide Power snatched a one-sided victory from the Gold Coast Suns. Despite the seemingly small crowd of 10,000 in attendance, AFL Chief Executive Gillon McLachlan still viewed the expedition as a success.
New Market Success
Less-than-enthusiastic rumblings from homeland fans often offset the executive-led positive spin on these expansions. But one new market expansion in recent years that has met overwhelming success is cricket.
A traditional sport conjuring images of lush green ovals in the gentrified Commonwealth, cricket suffered dwindling crowd numbers and reduced sponsorship dollars in the early 2000s.
The sport needed to attract the next generation. Enter the England Cricket Board’s attempt to reinvigorate the colonial sport: Twenty20 Cricket.
A faster, exciting, athletic version of the former snooze-fest, wrapping up in a couple of hours versus the previous one-to-five day versions of the sport, Twenty20 quickly became a domestic and international success.
From a marketing perspective, US sport-style antics complemented the obvious changes to the format, including cheerleaders, pre, mid and post-match entertainment, fireworks, and vibrant uniform colours, contrasting the dull white of test match cricket.
Today, a global Twenty20 cup spearheads the international cricket calendar, with local leagues in England, Australia, India, Pakistan and more attracting huge sponsorship and offering enormous paydays for players both domestically and internationally.
The Expanding Year Ahead
The NFL continues its decade-long expansion into the UK this year, with four matches scheduled in London in September and October.
The AFL will also continue its run in China, with the Port Adelaide Power reportedly pushing for a five-year deal, sacrificing a home game for the opportunity.
And cricket’s Twenty20 saturation continues to soar to new heights, gaining popularity with each marketing step it makes. A recent highlight being international women’s Twenty20 matches; a step the ICC is banking will result in further growth and popularity for a sport once hindered by its antiquated beginnings.
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