How to Leverage Emerging Markets in the Global Sports Economy


emerging markets sports industryWhile developing an Executive Search business across emerging markets, I always received exaggerated respect from locals for my achievements in handball and alpine skiing, sports that most of them know nothing of.

A recent Nielsen survey, showed China leads the world in its passion for sports (96% of people in China are positively interested), followed by Russia (95%). In China, nearly one billion people followed the Chinese women’s volleyball team win the Olympic final in Rio!

Transparency Market Research estimates that this growing population of new fans from emerging markets could boost the global sports merchandise market from US$28 billion in 2015 to upward of US$48 billion by 2024.

These numbers have encouraged record investments in and from emerging markets, to air more sporting competitions and attract superstar players to the local leagues. More and more organizers are competing to connect with fans in emerging markets.

However, this new fan base has volatile expectations that are sometimes hard to explain: it grew up with limited leisure time and prefers digital media over cable, in markets where regulations are still unclear, recreational venues are under development and broadcasters are often centrally controlled.

During my years in China, I’ve helped organizations across all industries to grow a new, large sustainable customer base. As with sporting organizations, my clients needed to address a demand that was difficult to predict with traditional methods, while exposing their brand to intense competition, with limited time to test themselves.

Some successful solutions have implications for the sports industry:

  • Transforming traditional back office operations into business support functions (accurate data analysis and performance measurement systems were used to improve decision efficiencies);
  • Integrating local structures and leadership (the consensus was that Joint Ventures in new markets, especially China, often took more time than they were worth);
  • Lean management organisations (this style increases flexibility and responsiveness, and can also foster a collaborative, service-based, business culture);
  • Using innovative technologies for better interconnectedness (the acquisition of tech start-ups can be interesting in new markets, but be sure to do proper due diligence);
  • “Glocalizing” branding strategies (there are global brands, but no global people…)

These strategies can be counterintuitive or countercultural, especially with newcomers. We have had to rethink organizational structures and bring in talents from different cultural and professional backgrounds, such as Big Data analytics, International Development, Digital Marketing, Innovation, M&A, Corporate Governance, Intellectual Property, Human Resources, etc.

With complex forces affecting the future of their industry, sports organizations will need to rapidly develop genuinely innovative ways of doing business; I believe that they can – and should – leverage experiences gained by professionals from other business sectors to drive implementation faster. Multinationals that have already managed these changes are a rich vein of potential inspiration, and talents.

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