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Satori Kawamura (Partnerships & Marketing Manager, Dentsu Sports Asia)

Our interview with Satori Kawamura who is currently the partnerships and marketing manager at Dentsu Sports Asia is an experienced professional in sports rights management and commercialization. Her core focuses include sports rights management, sports marketing and activation strategy, sponsorship sales and key stakeholder relations.

Q] Can you please share your journey and motivation into the Sports Industry?

A] I actually began my career in the sports industry in a different field. It was in sports science and medicine. I wanted to work in the sports science and education field. But, during my Masters, I took a course in sports business and management. During that time, I thought of pursuing an internship in one of the sports marketing agencies to understand the sports industry better, build a network and connect with different stakeholders in the region and that’s how I joined Dentsu Sports Asia (DSA) as an intern. This is how the journey started and now it has been over 4 years at DSA and I manage partnerships, sponsorships and athlete management here.


Q] Sports Sponsorship has evolved over time and there are new innovative ways coming up now for brands to get associated with Sports properties. Can you please share your experience on this?

A] Traditional sports sponsorship started as stadium branding. It was all about macro exposure. Now,

''It’s become very micro and sophisticated due to the advancements in technology and availability of digital platforms''

Sponsors can now tap into the whole consumer journey of a sports fan. Previously, it was all about stadium sponsorship on branding, now it is on your phone, tv and everywhere you go, and there are unique avenues wherein sponsorships can be amplified and that’s interesting. In the US, Amazon partnered with NFL for building smart stadiums. It is very common in US and Europe but here in Asia, high tech partnerships within the sports industry is still developing. Take for example, Kashima Antlers, a J-League football club in Japan sponsored by Mercari, a Japanese e-commerce company. They developed the Kashima Antlers smart stadium and developed its facilities and fan experience through its integrated app. You can order drinks on the app, watch live game feeds and all ticketing operations have been migrated online. China with Alibaba is also implementing these sophisticated system. Technologically, it is advancing the games. Currently, it is seen in few pockets in Asia but maybe in 5-10 years, it will be implemented on a greater scale.

Sports sponsorship rights are becoming even more sophisticated. Previously a league, federation or event had whole ownership of athletes. As per Rule 40 of the Olympic Games, no athletes were allowed to associate with their individual sponsors during the Games time and because of this, sponsors were not able to leverage of the athletes peak time. As of 2020, the rule has been changed and athletes are now allowed to have their own sponsors and associate with them during the Games, which is a huge game changer for sponsors and athletes.


Q] The rise of social media has also played a crucial role and this has led to new avenues for brands and at the same time offered new opportunities for rights holders to explore. How do you view this and its implications going forward for Sports Sponsorship?

A] Yes, it is difficult to escape the social media trend.

''We all have to adapt, we all have to digitalize.''

Personally, what I have seen is that the social media landscape changes every three years. First it was Facebook and then it was Snapchat; where I was living, it was really big. And the next big thing was Instagram. After that, now it is Tiktok. So, now I’m wondering what’s next? I think for sports sponsors as well as for us; agencies, it is important to constantly adapt and learn how we can utilise these different platforms, otherwise we are going to lose out on a lot of opportunities. But, with opportunities there are challenges too. For media rights agencies, it is quite complicated to sell rights in different markets. There are now a plethora of different platforms from pay TV, social media, OTT and so on and so forth. As the industry becomes more lucrative, it also has become fragmented and at the same time made it complicated to sell media rights.


Q] With the Olympics coming to Tokyo, how have you seen the sponsorship develop for one of the biggest sporting events? Please share some examples catering to this?

A] For the Japan Market, up until the previous Olympic Games back in 2016, we didn’t really see Japanese companies sponsoring large international sport events. But now after this movement in sponsoring sports properties, there is a lot more appetite now from Japanese companies to sponsor national and international large scale properties. For example, Asahi, a Japanese beer company are the sponsors of the Tokyo Olympic Games and they have now also signed on as the Worldwide Partner for the Rugby World cup and that’s a huge deal coming from a Japanese company. Unlike previous times, when all of the sponsorship was dominated by European or US companies, we do see a few more household brands from Japan sponsoring large International events. It’s a good impact for the global sports scene in Asia.


Q] Can you share your experiences working on the Asian Games 2018 and South East Asian Games 2019?

A] One word: Challenging. The Indonesia and Philippines market is still very much fragmented and unfortunately you do see a lot of corruption in these markets in the industry. It is very challenging to work and manage with different stakeholders but it was also a great learning experience. Once everyone is aligned with the goal, that’s how you are able to pull off a successful games. I do see that because of these games, there is a positive impact in the country itself. People are a lot more keen to get involved in sports and this has led to spiralling towards bigger things. After the Asian games in Indonesia in 2018, Indonesia officially bid for the 2032 Olympic Games and they are also hosting the 2023 FIBA World Cup jointly with Philippines and Japan.

'' I think a lot of other South East Asian countries are using the Asian Games and the South East Asian Games as a stepping stone into the bigger international events ''

So, it was a great learning experience to work in these markets; they have a lot of potential.


Q] How do you see the impact of the pandemic on the Sponsorship market and its impact on the major sports events?

A] I’ve been asked this question so many times in the past year. Of course, we all know that there has been budget restructuring, sponsors are more risk averse and have had to reconsider their sponsorship portfolio. We as an agency also had to do a lot of contingency planning. But what we have noticed is that sponsors have a longer timeline in mind now. Rather than sponsoring a one-off event, they are looking for at least a 3 year deal. So, while there are some negatives that came out of this whole situation, we do see that once we are able to convince sponsors to focus on one very specific field or specific area that they should really target and sponsor, then they will allocate their budget and think of long term sponsorship strategy. We also see that brands, agencies and rights holders are lot more cautious with the force majeure clauses now. We’ve all learnt our lesson that if such pandemic or any sort of cancellation arises, there will be room for discussion. We are seeing sponsorship contracts with rights holders being lot more flexible and adaptable now.


Q] Brands are now more demanding on the impact measurements of its association with Sports. How do you see this impact the evaluation metrics for Sports Sponsorships?

A] Obviously, previously if we were talking about media rights, it will be viewership and demographics numbers. There has always been discussion around how to quantify sports sponsorships.

'' It is very difficult to measure as it is all about the intangible values and Sports brings a whole set of different emotions that other product sponsorships may not ''

So, it is always a challenge to justify the ROI in numbers. We have worked with a number of insights and data agencies but I think it is still a grey area. There is a lot of development in US and Europe market but in Asia, it is still growing. Also, in the Asian market, the mindset is still traditional. If there are x no. of viewers, that quantifies to a good sponsorship. There is definitely still room for improvement in terms of mindset for how you quantify sports sponsorship in Asia.


Q] Can you please share your views on the evolution of the Sports Business management Education?

A] There are lot of prominent institutions that provide Sports Management education in Europe as well as US. But, in Asia it is still a growing industry. We do have a few institutions as well as Governments trying to build programmes that can cater to this specific market. But, I think there is still a lot to be done. What I see is that there is a lack of Asian representation in the Global Sports industry. For example in FIFA and IOC, the Asian representation is significantly lower as compared to other regions. I think all that stems from the education and the opportunities that we get as people from Asia. There is a need for this to be recognised in Asia because as the sports industry in the West keeps developing, there will always be a gap in Asia and therefore, this region will always have to chase after the more developed regions.


Q] Can you share with us your experience with the T2 Diamond Table Tennis league and any challenges which you may have encountered?

A] T2 Diamond is a table tennis sports & entertainment property and it is a joint venture between T2 APAC and DSA. The reason why DSA invested in the Sports property is because we felt that there is a huge potential in table tennis and it is an untapped sport. It is seen to be driven by the Chinese market because of its image. What we wanted to do with this was to globalize the property and make it fresh and exciting for the viewers. So, we implemented a lot of broadcast innovations, collaborated with social media platforms, OTT platforms to make sure that the distribution of the sport was covered globally. With the current situation, the events are on hold but we have managed to work with US Table Tennis Association to organize virtual tournaments in the US which is still going on. So, that is a great case study that we were able to develop this year. All of the events are done in US and we used Facebook as our media platform whereas, all of the graphics, overlay was done in Singapore.


Q] You have worked across multiple sports be it Table tennis, Hockey, Running, Athletics. So, what are the challenges that you face while working with different sports and how do you leverage practices from one sport to another?

A] Each sport is uniquely different so the consumers and fanbase will be different.

'' The challenging thing to determine is who are the core fans of that sport and who are the potential fans for that sport '

As a sports agency, we work with a lot of sports properties which means we have to learn who the fans are and how we customize our creatives, marketing so that it attracts the true fans of that sport. For example, I had no idea on who the fans of table tennis were and what their behaviour was like. It took a lot of relearning because we build a lot of biases and the actual scenario was completely different to what I had anticipated


Q] Closing thoughts and your message to budding Sports Management professionals?

A] Reach out. Network. Be willing to learn and talk to lots of different people.


This interview was conducted by Amey Sankhe. Want to read more about sports sponsorship in Asia?

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