The Financial Review

How sport is forging pathways into multicultural communities

Iranian matches at the Asia Cup 2015 were notable for the presence in the crowd of 20,000 Iranian women, who would not have been able to go to a game in religiously conservative Iran. Red Elephant Group.

by Patrick Skene

When the Rugby League World Cup 2017 kicks off on October 27 the organisers hope new groups of spectators will join the crowds cheering on teams from the 14 participating nations.

The plan is to introduce the game to migrant groups that don’t traditionally follow their ancestral national rugby league teams. The multicultural fan engagement strategy is being spearheaded by our team at Red Elephant, which helped swell the attendees at the region’s biggest football (soccer) tournament, the AFC Asian Cup 2015, including a record crowd for the Iraq v South Korea semi final.

Iranian matches were notable for the presence in the crowd of 20,000 Iranian women, who would not have been able to go to a game in religiously conservative Iran. One of our proudest moments was listening to Iranian fans fill Australian stadiums with drumming, dancing and singing in support of their ancestral country.

Chinese fans at the Asia Cup 2015. Red Elephant Group

The program to attract and engage fans involved a mix of community ambassadors, media, digital, social, content marketing and local area engagement through community roadshows, events and festivals. We utilised native language speakers sourced from our own team and our network of community ambassadors because many Asian communities in Australia consume their news from their own language media and are not reached by mainstream marketing.

We identified the top five Asian communities based on population size, strength of community media and number of local community organisations: China, Japan, South Korea, Iran and Iraq. Our research with these target communities showed that the Asian Cup had low brand recognition and few players from ancestral national teams were known to Asian Australian communities. Unsurprisingly, a lack of Asian players in the Australian A-League didn’t help and due to this factor attending live football matches was not an embedded behaviour in the Asian Australian community.

Electric atmosphere

The Asian Cup local organising committee knew the success of the event depended on the buy in of Asian Australians. So our job was to create a strategy that would engage both football fans and ‘patriots’ – community members who were not football fans but were proud of their ancestry and could be attracted to an experience that transcended football. Our team faced a challenge; we had engaged multicultural communities for the past decade, but never before to this scale.

To craft the strategy, we drew on our deep storehouse of research and insights we’ve captured over a decade at festivals, online, through community groups and our networked pool of community ambassadors who provided crucial insights on community behaviour.

We addressed the low levels of tournament and player awareness through community roadshows and weekly community emails in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Arabic and Persian, video and print profiles of players, and news about teams. Then we worked with our network of Asian community associations to bring community members together and purchase entire fan bays at stadiums.

Japanese fans at the Asian Cup 2015 Red Elephant Group

The electric atmosphere generated by these communities was the signature of the Asian Cup tournament.

Little did I realise that this would become one of most rewarding experiences in my professional career. The program metrics were impressive: we inspired over 100 Asian community media partners, 300 community ambassadors and 100 community partners, including cultural associations and international tourist agencies. We engaged at 200 community events and produced over 200 unique stories across all media.

The pre event attendance target of 350,000 attendees was eclipsed and stadiums and cities came alive with 650,000 fans and patriots uniting in a pan Asian-Australian celebration. Domestic and international tourists flocked into and across the country. So unexpected was the financial windfall that more than $20 million was returned to the event’s government funding partners, some of which was invested back into grassroots football facilities.

This was the first time Australia had hosted a major event as an Asian country, which resulted in a nation building exercise in social inclusion. We polled our community ambassadors after the event and more than 90 per cent said they had never felt more proudly Australian than during the event, a result that no one in our team had dared to predict.

Patrick Skene, founding executive director of Red Elephant. Fox Fotos

Community needs

For brands looking to engage multicultural audiences, one of the key lessons is that investing and engaging around a passion point is central for sustained long term success.

The multicultural market is clearly fragmented and a one size fits all model inevitably fails, delivering a poor return on investment. Segmentation is crucial to identify your high value and most relevant target markets and enables targeted community strategies that address the different needs of each community.

The 2016 Australian Bureau of Statistics Census results clearly reveal that Australia’s capital cities are becoming increasingly multicultural: 65 per cent of Sydneysiders have one or more parent born overseas; 33 per cent of Sydneysiders and 25 per cent of Melbournites have Asian ancestry; the Australian Chinese and South Asian communities are both more than 1 million strong.

Australian multicultural hearts and minds will be won by sports and brands that use data to segment smartly, engage consistently around a passion point, are culturally competent, communicate in first language and dedicate the appropriate resources that reflect the acquisition cost.

Our team is primed to use the lessons from the 2015 Asian Cup and the Rugby League World Cup to boost multicultural fan engagement at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in April 2018.

Patrick Skene is founding executive director of Red Elephant, a data-driven multicultural marketing and community engagement agency.