Monday, September 12, 2011

Why sports marketing is a deception if not done right.

The world is awed by the weekly income some footballers are earning (we lost count by the number of subsequent zeros after the first digit...) but real sports experts will call it an impending doom of a 'Sports Bubble'. Like wise men say, what goes up must come down. When an industry is being run on a perceived value, then the inevitable will happen when it can no longer withstand the tension caused by an illusion of worth. We've seen it in dotcom, property and may even see it in social media. But sports? Who would have thought in Malaysia alone, it is speculated to be a 30 billion Ringgit worth industry - calculated by who anyway? No one knows, but that's what media is saying.

We've had the opportunity to had a casual chat with an industry veteran, Dato' Sieh, who's currently heading the Olympic Council of Malaysia. An ex-athlete and an engineer by profession, he's certainly someone who's got all the credit to his name in saying a thing or two about what is fundamentally wrong with sports in Malaysia. How it's being run, how athletes are being trained, how facilities are being built and maintained, how sports - an innocent and fun recreation - can turn ugly in the hands of those hard on the heels of commerce and profit. I sat there and thought, boy, this is going to be exciting.

According to Dato' Sieh, sports in Malaysia is simply not played on a levelled field. Unfortunately, it is badly and poorly managed at times, with no accountability. Here, let me frame it right for you: You know how big sports can potentially get by the sheer amount of dough moved by EPL clubs these days. Now imagine the same scenario here, except this is no marketing, business building scheme. With the size of such account, without any transparency, it could only mean one thing. Some may perhaps gain more than others? Well, no hard proof (like we said, there're no accounts), so... this is purely writer's speculation.

That got me thinking. It's quite similar to the music industry. The moguls are earning a lot with close to 70% of the profit goes to the record label, then the manager and then the artists. But by democratizing music online, suddenly the game is flipped. Artists are saying, screw the manager and screw the record label. Let's just sell what we love best - music - and sell it to who we love most - fans. I know it's not an apple to apple comparison, but can one day, sports be democratized in such a way? Not the same model, but making it free from dirty old crooks or national bureaucrats. Can it happen?

It's said that the government is incentivising athletes too much, by providing everything that the athlete may need in order to train. I suppose the fundamental problem is this. Our sports people are told that they either have to train 100% and that includes giving up academic studies to pursue their passion, or... they're out of the game. I'm not familiar with America, but I do believe that in order for kids to excel in sports, they have to at least keep their academic scores above the flailing line. But such is not in our country. So, sports people get into the industry without learning any other skills. It's true what Dato' said. It takes a champion to be a world champion. Many can have the passion to pursue any sport but to give 100% of your life to a field that only recognises ONE world champion, that's very risky business, no? Sports for many of us is a recreational and social activity. We spend 90% of our time working and 10% playing sports. Or in some cases a 70-30 split. Wouldn't it be logical for our sportsmen and women to focus on both their game and professional life based on some kind of ratio as well? Are there any studies which can prove that unless a person spends 100% of his/her time to train, then he or she will never be a world champion? Well, there you go. That's the debate. Imagine someone who plays for the country, not equipped with any other skills NOR education certificates. What happens when he or she can no longer continue the game? Well... that's the dilemma.

It was a very enlightening afternoon at OCM. There are so much more that I've learned in just that one and half hours but the important thing that Dato' imparted upon me was really... sports is the only place where you truly become who you are. If you want that point, you have to get it yourself. There's no other way and no one can do it for you. And if you are really good, it'll show. On the court, in the field, anywhere where a game is held - there you have - ultimate transparency. How good a person is, is measured exactly to his/her value. We have to admit, even in the corporate world, many of us are sometimes measured by a 'perceived' value, no?

While I've learned all these issues with sports in Malaysia, I've also been inspired with some solutions. I can't share everything here (this blog is getting too long!). One day, if you're interested to know or debate with me, let me know. Otherwise, I pledge that the next time we support a sports programme via our client's budget, we will try to support it better. We will try to sustain its innocent essence of 'recreational, fun, passion and a simple display of the human spirit' and try to support it better. Not just simply for clients to shake hands with the Red Devils or have dinner with Chong Wei. But for what it is truly worth. For the enjoyment of the game itself.

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