Three cheers for the home team -- and its sponsor

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Three cheers for the home team -- and its sponsor

Ordinary businessmen are sensitive to the up and downs of the company balance sheet. At the end of a hard day, they might try to unwind with a few beers with friends, or perhaps by taking in a ball game.
But there is another group of businessmen for whom the ups and downs of the sports field are just as important as profits and losses. They’re the sports marketers.
In Korea, the big conglomerates sponsor most of the professional sports teams. These sponsors all have sports marketing departments to make sure that every victory of their sponsored teams contributes to the company’s image and, preferably, to the company’s sales as well.
The high-profile success of the FIFA World Cup last year has only furthered this trend, making every game a silent battlefield for the companies behind the teams.
With company names and logos festooning players’ jerseys -- from the Suwon Samsung Bluewings (soccer) to the Hanwha Eagles (baseball) to the Hyundai Hyperion (women’s basketball), sponsoring companies are busy coming up with ideas to link potential customer to their products.
For example, because TV cameras have begun to pan team benches in baseball, soccer and basketball games, companies have attached their logos to benches.
In the midst of the baseball season, there are no weekends for people like Ahn Kwang-young, 32, who started to work for LG’s baseball sports marketing department last May.
“When a picture of a player appears on TV, the first thing I check is whether the company’s logo is visible,” Mr. Ahn says.
According to Mr. Ahn, at last year’s Korean Series, although the LG Twins lost to the Samsung Lions, the promotion of the LG brand was still a huge success. In one major coup, LG Construction, part of the LG Group, put logos for one of its apartment complexes, Xi, on CheerStix, the cylindrical-shaped, vinyl war clubs fans wave and beat. Thousands gleefully banged the drum, so to speak, for the apartments all night long.
Some might think that watching baseball games all the time would be fun, but Mr. Ahn says that watching games as an employee is totally different. He says that because most games end late at night, it is hard to meet friends at night or on weekends.
Lee Dong-nam, who is in charge of the marketing team for the Bucheon SK soccer club, is also one of those people who cannot just enjoy soccer games like ordinary fans. During a game, he constantly checks whether the signboards are well-placed inside stadiums. At home games, he organizes minicontests, such as having fans kick a ball into a net and giving out prizes. He also makes sure that company logos are well within the line of the camera angles and photographers’ view.
Mr. Lee, 34, who has been working since 1995 for Bucheon SK, remembers vividly how it was in the old days. “Back then, the only thing companies did was putting the logo on the team jersey,” he says. “Nobody thought of the place where the games are played or other elements that could be used.”
He was the first person, to put a banner bearing the company’s logo behind a player during a post game interview, a practice now copied by virtually every team in the league.
For those teams that aren’t doing very well and aren’t pulling in the fans, the marketing job is much tougher. For the worst-of-the-worst teams, marketing can become borderline hopeless.
“Before an important game there is so much stress and pressure involved,” Mr. Lee says. “It’s like a roller-coaster ride the whole game.”


by Jung Hyun-mok, Kang Byong-chol
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