[NOTEBOOK]The branding opportunity in 2008

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[NOTEBOOK]The branding opportunity in 2008

Nike of the United States, Adidas of Germany, Mizuno of Japan, Le Coq Sportif of France, Diadora of Italy and Reebok of the United Kingdom.
Any person who likes sports is bound to have come in contact with at least one sports product from each of these brands. These companies have the common background of being from leading sports countries. And all of these countries have held the Olympics and the World Cup soccer tournament.
What about our country? We held the Seoul Olympics in 1988 and held the 2002 World Cup soccer games together with Japan successfully. Korea came within 10th place in the five consecutive Summer Olympics and four Winter Olympics since we hosted the Seoul Olympics. We even realized the dream of getting into the semi-finals in the 2002 World Cup. Yet Korea does not have an international sports brand.
Kolon Active, which started business during the Seoul Olympics, dreaming of becoming a worldwide sportsware company, closed its stores and disappeared without notice. Rapido of Samsung and Pro Specs sportsware of Kukje Group have become hard to find. There is the official Korean Olympic Committee sponsor, Fuerza, but it is just a mid-sized company with annual sales of 10 billion won ($9.5 million). These companies failed to link their brand names to international sports events held in Korea. Even China, which is a beginner in the sports product business, has developed its sports industry to the stage where it enjoys an annual profit of 262 billion won from “Li Ning” products, a brand that was first launched by Chinese star gymnast Li Ning in 1990.
It isn’t hard to find Korean products overseas. After all, Korean companies make high-quality products. So why don’t we have a famous sports brand? It is because we have only focused on OEM exports and not on creating a brand of our own.
According to the Korea Institute of Sport Science, there are around 69,000 sports-related companies in Korea. However, their combined annual sales are just 14.8 trillion won. The sports industry of the United States is worth around 305 trillion won, and that of Japan is 212 trillion won. Even if we take into account that the economies of these two countries are much bigger than ours, the gap is still too wide. Government support has been too weak, and we lacked manpower specialized in the sports industry.
Korea invested just 1.2 billion won in the sports industry last year. The specialists in charge of the sports industry amount to just four researchers at the Sports Industry Research Department of the Korea Institute of Sport Science. This is only 0.7 percent of the 167.4 billion won budget allocated for South Korea’s culture industry. Some-thing is seriously wrong. As a result, the physically active population of our country, which is regarded as a strong sporting country, has no choice but to buy and use foreign sports brands.
A bill for the development of the sports industry has been presented at the current session of the National Assembly at the initiative of Uri Party Representative Ahn Min-seok. If the bill passes the Assembly, it will enable the government to provide necessary support to sportsware companies and facilitate the introduction of a product certification system that will provide new standards and criteria for the selection of sports goods. It will also make it possible to train manpower needed for the sportsware industry. It is belated, but still it provides relief to the sports industry.
Former owner of the LA Dodgers Peter O’Malley, who scouted Park Chan-ho in 1994, had two baseball stadiums built in Beijing and in Tianjin, China, respectively. This was in the 1980s, when China was a barren wasteland for baseball. When people criticized him, saying, “Why did you do such a thing for China when they don’t even wear baseball caps?” he answered, “Even if 1 percent of 10 billion Chinese people wear a Dodgers cap some day, it will be 10 million caps.”
The Olympics will be held in Beijing in 2008. And the Chinese sportsware market around that time will grow to an enormous size. We may have missed opportunities during the Seoul Olympics and the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup, but we must make use of the Beijing Olympics to develop the sports industry in Korea.

* The writer is a deputy sports news editor for the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Sung Baik-you
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