's interview with TSA Group CEO Marcus Luer

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As it plans to grow its business in India, Total Sports Asia (TSA) is looking at media formats that combine sports with lifestyle.

Plotting an aggressive growth strategy, the sports marketing company has been able to double its India business year on year.

The business in India has been divided into three verticals - media, licensing and events and sponsorship. Forty per cent of the business comes from media. Another 40 per cent comes from events and sponsorship, while licensing takes up the rest.

In an interview with's Ashwin Pinto, TSA Group CEO Marcus Luer talks about the challenges sports marketing companies face in Asia.


How matured was the market when you floated Total Sports Asia in 1997?
When we started, sports marketing was in its infancy in Asia and many sporting properties were commercially underdeveloped or mismanaged. We brought in new concepts and marketing tools. Our educational marketing tool has been very successful in introducing new brands to sports. Our consultative approach with brands has also been acknowledged by major sponsors like Coca-Cola, Samsung, Hyundai and Visa.

We have also brought major global properties to Asia and expanded their reach and fan base regionally. These include World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), US Open tennis, South American football and Manchester United.

WWE, in fact, has just opened an office in India and we pioneered this development almost 10 years ago when we brokered the first TV deal, hosted live events in India, signed a host of licensing deals and on the back of it helped build a very powerful brand which continues to generate major ratings and commercial interest.

We have developed local and regional sports properties and helped them go global. We are working with Badminton World Federation (BWF), International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) and Professional Squash Association (PSA) on a global scale. We are driving the revenue opportunities of these sports in its core markets in Asia and helping them expand around the world.

How has the business grown over the last couple of years?
In the TV rights and production business, we are physically involved in over 50 live events across the globe. We provide satellite and production service to our core properties in badminton, table tennis, squash and boxing. We own and sell major properties worldwide including BWF Super Series, ITTF Pro Tour and all other ITTF events, PSA Pro Tour, AIBA Boxing and the World Series of Boxing.

So far as partnerships and sponsorships go, we work on both ends of the spectrum. We work directly with rights holders and help them find new partners in Asia, including major football clubs from Europe, F1 teams, US Open Tennis and ITTF Pro Tour.

What challenges did the economic downturn pose for you?
2008-09 were not "fun" years. We had invested heavily into new areas, manpower and had lost a big account. We stuck to our core principals and retooled certain areas of the business. We are on target to have our best year ever.

Are things back to normal now or has the Japan earthquake set things back?
Sports marketing in Asia has been back to normal since 2010, which was also a big Football World Cup year. I believe the industry has growth potential for the next 20-30 years. Of course, there will be course corrections based on global macro economic problems or more domestic issues in key markets which will affect everyone.

On the other hand, sports marketing is still only a toddler in Asia and has plenty of years left before it reaches levels of maturity as seen in the US, Europe or Australia. Certain sports have already been developed like cricket in India. But even cricket has plenty of room to improve and grow. As powerful as the IPL is, it's not on the same level of professionalism as major football Leagues in Europe. For a still relatively new League, it has done incredibly well and has plenty of room to grow and improve.

How has the business in India grown?
The business from India has been doubling year on year. India has always been a very important market, even prior to 2004 when we set up our local subsidiary. Over the years, India has now grown to be the single largest country in terms of revenue contribution to the group.

'We already have great scale in India and do very little in cricket. That just shows that there are plenty of other areas to concentrate on and grow the business outside cricket'

Given that India is a one sport country, what is the strategy to build scale here?
We already have great scale in India and do very little in cricket. That just shows that there are plenty of other areas to concentrate on and grow the business outside cricket.

We have divided the business into three verticals - media, events and sponsorship and licensing. We do six to seven events a year.

How did you get involved with the Delhi Golf Club?
The Delhi Golf Club made the most sense for us in terms of taking the rights for their calendar year and getting sponsors. We have got sponsors like Mitsubishi Motors and China Tourism. The other option is to do a one off event like everyone else. We did not want to get into a crowded space.

How are you going to get involved with the F1 event here?
In F1, our focus is on the teams and only occasionally we work with the local races.

I do believe that F1 viewership and general interest in the sport will dramatically grow in India over the next three-five years. I saw it first hand in Malaysia where F1 was unknown to the general public prior to the first race in 1999; now everyone seems to be an expert. I have no doubt that F1 will have a similar success in India. It's an amazing product and even more exciting to watch live than on TV.

Once Indian corporations have a chance to see the F1 spectacle live, they will get the idea pretty quickly on how to leverage the power of it in the local market and even worldwide.

In India what work are you doing to grow soccer?
We have worked with several clubs including Churchill Brothers to help them grow their commercial revenue streams. We had partnered with CAA to bid for the rights, which now are handled by IMG/Reliance. So we were ready to invest considerable resources into the sport, but unfortunately came up a bit short.

We are seeing sports bodies and agencies making a bigger push in India. WWE just set up an office here. IMG Reliance is doing work to push sports. How will all this activity benefit the sports marketing environment here?
It clearly will grow the size of the pie,,there is no doubt about it. Just like Cricket, there are several other sports which have good growth potential. It has happened all over the world and will happen here as well. Clear second tier sports will emerge and will develop their own niche and space.

Growth will be led by new star players emerging in certain sports; the 2012 Olympics will particularly unearth new talent. Sports will be driven by corporations seeking new ways to reach consumers and being driven or prized out of cricket.

Are you looking at the possibility of a JV in India like what IMG has done with Reliance?
We are always open to team up with powerful partners.

In terms of leveraging their brands, to what extent is digital becoming important for sports federations and sports marketing agencies?
The digital world is a huge opportunity for sports in general. Niche sports can now deliver their content directly to their fan base without having to rely on the big sports platforms or channels.

At the same time, sports is the only true "appointment TV" and, therefore, will continue to drive pay TV and other traditional media platforms as it caters to huge audiences -- "live".

The only difference is sports, where it is all about live experience; no one will tape a crucial match of their favourite team, player or sport. People make "appointments" to watch it live; the delivery mechanism and the viewing experience might change but not the desire to see it while it unfolds. That's the true power of sports.

What progress has your online streaming service Total Sports TV made since launch?
It's an on-going case study into the digital world for us. We don't claim to have found the ultimate solution yet -- but it gives us exposure into a new fast developing area and will lead to new business opportunities down the line.

How is Total Sports Asia planning to get involved with the 2012 Olympics?
I assume that the economic impact in Asia will be much smaller compared to 2008. We are working with several companies who are major Olympic sponsors and helping them with marketing and leveraging ideas and implementation across the region.
I believe the London Olympics will be big in Asia, because of the host city itself. Beijing was unique in many ways and might not be topped in terms of the sheer scale and size. But I have no doubt that London will set new standards in many other ways. Overall, the Olympics will definitely grow in Asia and we will see more and more global sponsors trying to take its advantage by making it locally relevant.

What are the new technologies coming up here that are enhancing the viewer's experience?
Our racket sport production business is growing dramatically this year. We have brought in many innovative ideas such as speed guns and virtual technology to enhance the viewer experience. We are also aiming to provide fans with new data and info about their sport.
We will continue to work with our Federations to push new technologies and ideas, while making it commercially viable at the same time.
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