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Recent purchase of Ironman by Infront & Dalian Wanda is really the tip of the iceberg for running and endurance events in Asia, or the first mile of a Marathon if you’ll excuse the analogy. Lawrence Robertson, Associate Director - Pan Asia at Infront Sports & Media AG offers his unique insight on what the team at Infront like to call 'Active Lifestyle' and the opportunity that has presented itself in Asia:

Active Lifestyle in its various guises – marathons, half marathons, 10k's, fun runs, cycling, triathlon, duathlon - are all on the rise as both the developed and emerging nations across Asia realise the health, tourism and economic related benefits associated with hosting such events. They have seen the success of other events worldwide and now realise the opportunities that exist. As an example, estimates from the London Marathon put the economic impact of this event at around the $150m mark - pretty impressive for 35,000 runners running, jogging and walking their way round London on an April morning.

It's not like this is an overnight sensation however. Asia already plays host to some of the world's biggest marathons - big in terms of sheer numbers and also prestige. The Tokyo Marathon, which is 10 times over-subscribed, has rightly taken its place amongst the Abbott World Marathon Majors and delivers healthy profits each year thanks to the premium on runner slots, an incredibly strong sponsor family and the demand from overseas runners.

Elsewhere across the region, Standard Chartered saw the opportunity over 10 years ago and aligned themselves with many of the marathons in SE Asia's major cities including Hong Kong (75,000 runners) Singapore (55,000), Kuala Lumpur (30,000) and Bangkok (25,000). The rationale from Standard Chartered is simply that being title sponsor to these high-profile local events demonstrates their commitment to the communities they serve, offers an excellent staff engagement platform (2,500 of their staff alone run the Singapore event) and also an opportunity to raise money for good causes. Hence their sponsorship strapline ‘Run For a Reason’. In the past decade, they have added to their portfolio and are now also title sponsors for the marathons in Dubai, Mumbai, Brunei and Taipei.

Other major financial institutions have also woken up to the opportunities that aligning with such events offers. Insurance giants AIA have chosen to support their global partnership with Tottenham Hotspur by partnering on a regional basis with The Music Run whilst Malaysian bank CIMB have teamed up with the Color Run. Both of these are now established in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Jakarta. Whilst Singapore’s OCBC Bank, another of the region's financial powerhouses, has chosen cycling with their support of OCBC Cycle which has been staged in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur with intentions to roll out further across their own territories. Their event was the template for the hugely successful Prudential Ride London which this year attracted over 100,000 participants.

The emergence of these major brands reflect the growing maturity of the sponsorship marketplace in Asia and the respective sponsors understand that Active Lifestyle is not about large TV audiences and ‘brand visibility’. They have come to realise that these events are all about engagement.

Active Lifestyle offers you a real and genuine touch point with your consumer through their passion or love (or simply determined commitment to finish whatever challenge they have agreed to take) of running, cycling, swimming or a combination of all three (with a touch of paint, lights or music thrown in for good measure if you fancy it).

This engagement can stretch out over many weeks and months as many will train for such events, whilst many will also participate with friends and almost all will take every opportunity to share their progress or achievements on all of their favourite digital platforms. The digital age has really helped Active Lifestyle step into the centre ground in terms of brand sponsorships as the opportunity to be part of someone's journey to the finish line proves too compelling for brands.

So, the race has undoubtedly started but there is a long way to go for Active Lifestyle in Asia, hence Wanda’s move to buy Ironman. When you consider that Ironman, the world's most profitable endurance franchise, has yet to stage an event in mainland China and that the running and marathon community in China is still very much in its infancy, then there are multiple opportunities emerging for all.

My colleagues at Infront China last year launched Happy 10k with five runs across five cities and this year will deliver 10 runs with the series projected to reach 20 runs come the end of 2017. All of which have attracted an average of 4,000 at each race. A good start no doubt but if you consider that a commercial run in Singapore (population 5 million) would not be considered successful unless it attracted 15,000 runners, then you can begin to see how much further the likes of China has to go in this space.

Sure, there are still challenges. Events such as these rely on the income from participants and with the average income in many of these countries still low, then Active Lifestyle event organisers will have to rely on sponsorship to help further build the category. Yet, it is clear that many of the apparel brands have already seen the opportunity and have invested in their own branded runs (Nike WeRun, Adidas King of the Road, asics City Relay) whilst at the same time supporting many of the major marathons across the region.

Whilst the apparel brands will undoubtedly lead the way in helping build the active communities across Asia, they are rapidly being joined by many other brands who are seeing the growth and opportunity. Emerging categories such as compression-wear and wearable technology along with the proliferation of private medical insurance across Asia, mobile handsets and the hugely competitive mobile network environment mean that the sponsor landscape is well set for owners of Active Lifestyle events to be bullish about the future.

This is one area that will most certainly be a Marathon not a sprint.

This insight piece was written by Lawrence Robertson, Associate Director - Pan Asia at Infront Sports & Media AG.

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