Market View

Successful Sports Marketing Insights from the TOKYO MARATHON

2013/2/28 Thursday
fromTTAccount Director, Reina Endo

The beginning of 2013 has been full of success stories from the world of Japan sports.
Lately, Japan has lauded great achievements by its young athletes such as world tennis Top 25-ranking, Kei Nishikori's victory at the U.S. National Indoor Tennis Championship; Mao Asada's convincing victory with a score of over 200 at Four Continents Figure Skating Championships; and 16-year-old Sara Takanashi's becoming the youngest-ever World Cup Overall Champion in FIS Ski Jumping. Such performances by the country's athletes raise awareness and viewership of their sports, and this creates attractive new sports marketing opportunities. And it's just fantastic, inspiring news for sports-lovers like me.

Against this backdrop of positive sports-related news, I'd like to take a look at the keys to the success of the largest sports event in terms of participation in the capitol region, the Tokyo Marathon. The 7th edition of the road race through downtown Tokyo, recently classified as a “World Marathon Major” was held on February 24th boasted over 36,000 entrants, attracted crowds estimated at 1.7 million people cheering on the sidelines, employed over 10,000 volunteers, earned a record 224 million JPY for charity, and attracted the largest number of corporate sponsors in the event's history to date. The Fuji Television Network devoted 7 hours of coverage and special programming to the marathon, clearly demonstrating the high awareness and interest in the event.

In contrast, recently there was also a disappointing piece of news in sports when it was announced that wrestling will be eliminated as an Olympic sport beginning with the 2020 Olympics. There has been quite a bit of controversy over this sudden decision, and journalists in Japan have criticized the Japanese Wrestling Association for failing to lobby the IOC aggressively enough. This outcry against the decision is also occurring in other countries.
As I pondered these two contrary cases, an idea came to me: the key difference between them is whether or not the sport's sanctioning organization has strategic communication plan to engage a wider audience beyond actual participants in the sport.

In recent years in Japan, surveys show that interest in sports is shifting from actually “doing” sports to “enjoying watching” games and/or “participating as non-player”. The 2012 Leisure White Paper published by Japan Productivity Center shows that the overall sports market has declined 24.7 % since the late 1990s (from5,330 billion JPY in 1998 down to 4,015 billion JPY in 2010) in tandem with leisure market declines. While both the market size for sporting goods and sports facilities/school business dropped (16.5% and 33.2%, respectively), the sports spectator market grew 10.3 % during same period.

In the Tokyo Marathon case, the organizers planned coordinated a number of strategic initiatives to attract interest in the event, including a a charity scheme for natural disaster relief and branding volunteer staff as ‘TEAM SMILE'; holding friendship exchange events prior to the main event; staging cheerleading performances and competitions on the sidelines; and holding traditional arts performances, photo contests and many other associated events.

Considering the high involvement level of the spectators at the Tokyo Marathon, the approach of engaging millions of non-athlete people in the event and maximizing the impact as sports marketing exercise is an excellent model for other sports sanctioning organizations including Japanese Wrestling Association.