Wave of the future

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - February 21, 2021 - 12:00am

Last Tuesday, the London School of Economics Student Union conducted a virtual panel discussion on “The Rise of Asian Sports Business” with host Yuyang Cao and academic chair Dr. Xiaoran Hu presiding in a lively one-hour forum featuring guests Sports Business Strategy and Marketing professor Simon Chadwick, former NBA China CEO Derek Chang, Bundesliga Borussia Dortmund football club head of China Benjamin Wahl and East Asia Super League CEO Matt Beyer.

It was particularly interesting to note Beyer’s comments since EASL is courting the PBA to join the inaugural eight-team season in October this year, barring pandemic issues. Beyer said at the moment, EASL is focusing on things that it can control with the COVID-19 crisis still unsettled. “We’ll decide the appropriate time to start,” said Beyer who lives in Hong Kong. “We’ll be patient. We know there are bigger issues to sort out before we think of starting our league. They’re rolling out the vaccine from China in Hong Kong in the coming days and I’m hoping that by next month, I’ll be in line for inoculation.” Beyer said if the crisis persists, he’ll propose to postpone the EASL launch to 2022. Whatever is the decision, FIBA will be consulted as EASL’s schedule is synched in with the international federation. EASL has a 10-year affiliate agreement with FIBA and an option to extend for five more years. Because of EASL’s home-and-away format, Beyer said he wouldn’t risk the players’ safety with international travel if the pandemic is unabated.

Playing in a bubble, similar to the NBA and PBA, isn’t a viable option as it defeats EASL’s purpose of exposing its teams to the increasing live markets in the Philippines, South Korea, Japan and Greater China which are penciled to be represented by two teams each.  Beyer said the Chinese Basketball Association has played its games in a bubble the last five months and “it’s not the same as before, looking at the faces of the players and coaches.” He said it’s a judgment call from a sports business perspective to play in a bubble or not. “People react differently to different things, we’re all wired differently,” he said. “In the NBA, players are well-compensated to go on the road in spite of the situation but for the support staff, many of whom earn just average wages, they take three to five trips a week, 10 months in a year and it’s taxing but they do it for the love of the game. I’m still lucky living in Hong Kong with my wife but it’s tough not being able to see my mom and dad and my nieces and nephews growing up in the US because of travel restrictions.”

Beyer, who’s tech-savvy, said building EASL’s brand through digital media is keeping him busy to prepare for the season launch. “The opportunities and challenges in social media and technology are exciting, particularly in Asian sports,” he said. “We’ve got a potential of one billion fans, a nascent group compared to Western audiences. Just look at the events coming to Asia – the Tokyo Olympics, the Winter Olympics, FIBA World Cup. With 5G connectivity, we can do so much in social media. In EASL, our core element is to provide our fans a digital experience as a compelling option in competing with general entertainment. We know that 60 percent of fans get their news from social media and to be on the winning side of adjustments in technology, we intend to offer highlight packages that catch their attention. We’ll find out who’s popular and we can use technology to put the local heroes out in social media even after each quarter of a game. We plan to customize features and our advantage is in Asia, we’re 10 to 20 years advanced in media technology.”

Beyer said the key is understanding the Asian markets. “We deal with trends, different languages, different cultures,” he said. “With EASL, we’re offering not just basketball but an exciting experience like no other. We see ourselves competing with Netflix as an alternative form of entertainment, not the domestic basketball league or the NBA.” For sure, the future is wide open for the growth of sports in Asia and EASL looms to be at the forefront of a booming era.

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