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Sports Stars Are Marketer’s Delight

Posted May. 27, 2006 03:00,   


Park Ji-sung, Lee Young-pyo, Park Ju-young, Michelle Wie and Hines Ward have one thing in common. They have corporate sponsors. Sponsoring sports stars has been a trend in marketing because the stars’ popularity gives a major boost to the brand value of the products they use.

In particular, auto companies believe that their products and the energy and vigor of sports celebrities make a perfect match and are eagerly going after sports stars.

Competition is intensifying not only in terms of the size of the sponsorship offered to star players but also in terms of creativity. It is not an unusual case that a combination of the right idea and the right star turns out to be a huge hit even with a modest budget.

Sports Celebrities are More Cost Effective–

The most enthusiastic advocate of sports marketing in Korea is Kia Motors.

Kia views this year’s World Cup in Germany as a big sales opportunity and is offering cars to famous players, including Park Ji-sung (Sorento), Lee Young-pyo (Opirus) and Seol Ki-hyeon (Opirus), as well as Gus Hiddink (Opirus), the former head coach of the Korean national team.

Hines Ward is another recipient of Kia sponsorship. He was offered the first new version of Opirus and six other vehicles during his second visit to Korea yesterday, and 11 vehicles during his first visit.

Kia arranged 10 vehicles for Michelle Wie, “golf genius,” to use during her homecoming visit.

Volkswagen Korea is the sponsor of soccer player Park Ju-young, who drives a Passat Variant. Volvo Korea gave Park Chan-ho an S80 Executive, a luxury model, and an XC90 V8, an SUV.

Most sponsorship lasts about one year on average. The cars are usually leased out to their celebrity drivers. For 30 million-won vehicles, the sponsorship costs 15 million to 20 million won a year. For 50 million-won cars, it costs about 30 million won.

Companies pay for the basic costs such as maintenance and chauffeurs when celebrity players visit Korea.

Given the fact that top professional models are paid 500 million to 700 million won for a six-month contract, vehicle sponsorship is a less costly way of advertising.

It’s All about Creativity–

Do sports stars have real advertising effects?

When measuring the advertising effects, corporate sponsors take into account the amount of media coverage of their products and estimated costs of advertising in conventional ways.

After an independent cost-benefit analysis, Kia concluded that money spent on Hines Ward earned 50 times more on spending. In the case of Michelle Wie, the sponsorship earned 20 times even after the additional costs paid for her special golf lessons were deducted from the benefit side.

In addition to the relatively tangible, financial effects, such a strategy stimulates potential customers’ curiosity and raises existing customers’ self-worth.

“A lot of Opirus owners said they feel more proud of driving an Opirus after they took Michelle Wie’s special golf lessons,” said Kim Jung-dae, manager of Kia Motors domestic marketing team.

The car manufacturer expressed its satisfaction that sponsoring Park Ji-sung and Lee Young-pyo has strengthened its image as a more dynamic company.

Volkswagen Korea’s Bangsil echoed Kia’s satisfaction, saying, “Park Ju-young takes much interest in cars. He reads brochures very carefully. Thanks to him, more people take greater interest in Volkswagen vehicles.”

Lucrative sponsorship comes at a cost, which is fierce competition, to attract sports stars.

The highest bid alone is not enough to win over sports celebrities. A brilliant idea often works better.

For instance, a non-Korean auto manufacturer was supposed to offer vehicles to Hines Ward. But Kia stressed that it would be much more symbolic if Ward, a Korean, drives a Kia, a Korean car. It also offered to put up Ward’s Opirus in an auction and donate all the proceeds to scholarship foundations for children with only one Korean parent. The result was successful, and the success came at no additional cost.

Hyo-Lim Son aryssong@donga.com