Local versus international sports leagues in Southeast Asia

Local sports leagues are thriving in Southeast Asia as a growing middle class has more time and resources to enjoy sports. But how attractive are local sports leagues to brands compared to big international leagues?

While commercialisation of sports is no new phenomenon, the majority of sponsorship deals have traditionally been with large international leagues outside of Asia. However, that may be about to change. According to Claude Ringuet, former head of Repucom’s Southeast Asia division, local leagues, spurred by the success of big international leagues in capturing the attention of audiences in Southeast Asia, are beginning to find new ways to engage their local audiences.

“In developed Southeast Asian countries football in general has always had massive interest and popular engagement, in particular European football and the Premier League,” Claude Ringuet stated in a recent Nielsen Sports report. “While they’ve had difficulties with their local leagues and their development and commercialisation, fans have remained very passionate about the top European clubs and leagues. This has in part driven a desire for countries in Southeast Asia to identify new products to satisfy local fans and local talent.”

A case in point is Thailand’s popular football league. Thai football fans are some of the most loyal and engaged in the region, having been ignited when the English Premier League arrived in the country some 20 years ago. Today, Thai League 1, the country’s premier football league, consists of 16 teams with all matches shown on live TV.

According to Paul Poole, Founder, Managing Director and Chairman of The Sponsorship Experts, Thai League 1 is by far the biggest receiver of monetary sponsorships in Thai sports. “This is where most of the commercial sponsorship is directed and all the matches are televised live. The lower levels are still serious about football, but there’s less money being invested and no live broadcast. It’s really about that top level."

In recent years, major European leagues have made their way to Thailand in an effort to tap into the country’s football crazy fans - not to mention the spending power of locally-owned global brands such as Chang and Singha who both have a history of sponsoring international football.

And while international leagues are still taking the majority of the sponsorship cake, local leagues have their own unique advantage: a local and extremely engaged fan base and the potential to have a major impact. According to Paul Poole, Buriram is a good example: “Not too long ago, to foreigners and even to some people in parts of Thailand, a name like Buriram was unrecognisable,” he says. “There are a lot of loyal fans now. Fifteen years ago, you might have seen people wearing replicas of Liverpool shirts, but now you might see more people wearing replicas of Buriram shirts in Bangkok.”

There are other examples of the differences in sponsorship appeal between local and international leagues elsewhere in Southeast Asia. In the Philippines, the Philippines Basketball Association (PBA) - the second oldest in the world only after the NBA - is a major draw in sports sponsorship with several teams being owned by large local corporations with an international reach. As with the local Thai football leagues, however, the PBA is not out-scoring the NBA anytime soon.

“These cases highlight the differences between local and international leagues when it comes to sponsorship appeal,” concludes Paul Poole. “It’s not always a case of “either/or” but “it depends”. Both have unique appeal and will attract different companies with different goals - not to mention budgets.”

Paul Poole (South East Asia) Co., Ltd. is an independent marketing consultancy based in Bangkok, Thailand specialising in commercial sponsorship and partnership marketing, working with both rights holders and brands - acting as a catalyst by bringing them together and maximising the relationship.

We have packaged, sold and managed sponsorship and partnership opportunities for a wide range of rights holders and worked with many of the world’s leading brands to source and engage the right sponsorships and partnerships for them to maximise.

Please contact us for more information: Tel./Fax: +66 2622 0605 – 7 Email: