In 1979, sports, entertainment and media company IMG helped organize the visit of boxer Muhammad Ali as a goodwill ambassador to Beijing. It started the ball rolling for sports marketing in China and IMG has since done more than 2,500 events here. CHINA ECONOMIC REVIEW spoke with John Cappo, managing director of IMG China, about the future of sport in the country.
Q: What is the main focus of your business here?
A: Our core business is our events – the HSBC Champions, the Grand China Air LPGA event in Hainan [both of which are golf tournaments] and the China Tennis Open in Beijing. We also do distribution of sports programming and new media rights, which is everything from terrestrial to broadband to digital to mobile. Then there is client representation – athletes and celebrities. We also have the HSBC Junior Golf Development Program, which is developing kids at the grass-roots level. It started last year, and it has doubled in size already. This year, we are going into schools and will come in contact with about 70,000 kids.
Q: How are you involved in the Olympics?
A: The Olympics play a very big role in IMG’s business. It’s global, but of course now the focus is on Beijing. We have several clients we work with closely, such as Johnson & Johnson and GE. A lot of it is managing their hospitality programs and also marketing and showcasing activities around the Olympics.
Q: What are the major trends you see in Chinese sports marketing?
A: All clients are becoming more sophisticated. It’s not just about signboards on a pitch. They want a full turnkey operation that includes print materials, new media, hospitality and ways to leverage all of their sponsorships. More and more local firms are becoming more involved. The Olympics will show local firms and brands that sport and event marketing is a very powerful tool if used properly. Samsung used the Olympic games to create a brand. Before they sponsored the 1988 Olympics, there was no Samsung. Lenovo is doing the same thing now.
Q: Are you noticing a change in the kinds of sports attracting attention?
A: If you look at tennis five years ago, it was a bit high-end, but now it’s common. It’s the same with golf, which is growing very quickly. It’s a prestigious sport and a lifestyle statement of a new China. Five to 10 years ago, parents would be sending their children to piano school. Now, they’re taking them for golf lessons.