Will fan passion for the World Cup diminish with the Asian teams eliminated?

Adam HodgeAs the World Cup reduces to just 16 teams and with Asian teams all knocked out, Octagon’s Adam Hodge looks at what impact that will have on the region’s enthusiasm for football and what that means for marketers who have invested in the sport.  

As the FIFA World Cup enters the Round of 16, and the teams that represent Asia Pacific on the global stage — Iran, Japan, Australia and Korea, all bow out we are left to cheer on adopted players or countries.

But does this still give us local fans sufficient reason to set our alarms for 2am in morning?

And what about the brands that have invested heavily in football as a marketing platform over the past few months? Should they be worried that with no Asian teams left to support that fan passion for the World Cup will diminish?

To understand the impact that this will have on World Cup fandom over the next few weeks, it is important to understand the motivation of fans.

At Octagon have seen 8 World Cups come and go and more recently, have invested 10 plus years in a psychographic study of Fan Passion across hundreds of sports and over 125,000 fans in 13 nations – so I feel qualified to at least have a crack at an opinion.

We have found that football fans can geographically be broadly distinguished in three key markets – Emerging, Developing and Mature.

Emerging Football Nations (eg: Australia, USA).

These are nations where football is not the national sport, nor in the top 3 by interest.

Fans tend to have a greater connection to the sport by participation (eg: Football is the number one sport at a junior participation level in Australia).

Developing Football Nations (eg: Singapore, Iran, China,).

In these nations, Football is the #1 or #2 sport with a reasonably well established domestic league and recent history of national participation.

Fans have a social connection with the sport. Football provides a social currency and a connection point for like-minded people (tribal communities are yet to form)

Mature Football Nations (eg: UK, Spain, Italy, Japan, Korea).

These countries have well established roots with strong domestic leagues and a long and proud history of national participation. Fans tend to be team-centric – even tribal in their passion.

In a region as geographically, culturally and demographically diverse as Asia Pacific it is no surprise that fandom is demonstrated in very different ways in distinct counties. There is however a key commonality but more on that in a bit…

Our research defines and measures fan passion for sport into 13 drivers*. In mature markets, the fan passion for football is heavily rooted in team devotion.

An almost tunnel vision passion for the club they love and their national team. In mature football markets you rarely choose your club, you are born into it.

This passion tends to overwhelm a broader love of the game. So once their team is out, interest levels fall drastically.

This is reflected in TV viewership, general media discussion and attendance. The exception is typically the final, when the need to be part of a once-a-4-year global sporting event trumps base passions and all fans tune back in regardless of the teams playing.

This is the ‘talk and socialising’ driver coming to the fore. When we consider the Asian fan, we are looking at emerging and developing markets.

These are markets where the local competition is of a lesser standard and as a result we see the majority of football fans passion linked to overseas leagues.

Recent research has shown that 9 out of 10 Singaporean football fans name The Premier League as their favourite.

But actually the research shows that of more importance for APAC football fans is player excitement.

This is a passion that is rooted in the appreciation of the athletic prowess of the individual players over the teams and clubs.

With no national team in the World Cup, Asia Pacific fans will tend to follow their favourite players into their respective national squads.

For example, Manchester United fans may follow Robin Van Persie into The Netherlands; Liverpool fans tail Gerrard to the English national team and Manchester City fans converting their love for Toure into Ivory Coast support.

Smart brands are cognisant of this and have used player power (rather than team devotion) cleverly across the region.

Screen Shot 2014-06-29 at 11.45.17 amWeChat with Messi, have capitalised on power of celebrity in digital to use the Argentine striker as a focal point to drive trial and engagement.

C1000 has leveraged Robin Van Persie in Indonesia to differentiate their product in an increasing competitive sports drink market.

And SingTel and Samsung’s recent activation featuring Rio and Aguero leveraged the star power and competitive spirit of the two Man U players to surprise and reward their customers.

Whether intentionally or not, these brands have identified the overarching passion driver across Asia. Linking their activity to the players themselves rather than just the home nations on the pitch.

Whilst we can expect to see a drastic and sudden declines in interest from mature markets exiting the competition (I’m looking you England, Portugal, Italy and Spain), don’t expect the same from Asia.

These fans are much more likely to be connected to the social aspect of the tournament (regardless of who is playing) and many will still have their adopted national team (and favourite player) in the running.

So whilst team devotion is an important factor in Asia, it is more important from a club perspective than on the World Cup stage.

Player excitement is the key driver of interest and engagement across the region, so don’t expect this buzz to die off soon as the local fan favourite such as Messi, Neymar and RVP come into their own as the tournament approaches to the pointy end.

Adam Hodge is the regional strategy director of South East Asia of sports, music, and entertainment marketing agency Octagon.

*Octagon’s study into the fan motivation for sports is called Passion Drivers.Screen Shot 2014-06-30 at 11.34.40 am



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