Take a chance on Asia?
Last week, the Japanese capital of Tokyo edged a step closer to staging the 2020 Summer Olympic Games when it was named as one of three Candidate Cities.
Few at this stage would bet against Tokyo adding to an impressive portfolio of international sporting events in Asia since the turn of the millennium.
The 2002 Fifa World Cup in South Korea and Japan, and the 2008 Beijing Olympics, will be remembered fondly by many, but there were also the 2010 Singapore Youth Olympic Games, the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India, and the 2011 World Athletics Championships in Daegu, South Korea.
In 2018, PyeongChang will bring the Winter Olympics to South Korea, and in 2019, Japan will stage the Rugby World Cup. Qatar, despite missing the cut in the 2020 Olympics race, will have the 2022 Fifa World Cup to look forward to, and there are countless other events that are due to be staged in Asia over the coming years.
From the innovative technology-driven Far East through to the as yet unfulfilled potential of BRIC countries India and China and the emerging oil-rich Middle Eastern superpowers, the continent is viewed by many job applicants as an exciting challenge.
However, does the dream correspond with the reality?
The burgeoning Asian sports industry may represent an attractive proposition for an ambitious ‘go-getter’ from Europe or the Americas, but what should those seeking such a change of scenery consider before taking the plunge?
John Davis, who currently works at the University of Oregon in the United States, is the author of a new book entitled ‘The Olympic Games Effect: How Sports Marketing Builds Strong Brands’.
As a former Professor of Marketing Practice and Director of the Centre for Marketing Excellence at Singapore Management University, and the Dean of the Global MBA at the S P Jain School of Global Management, which is based in Dubai and Singapore, Davis is well aware of what Asia has to offer.
“The sports industry in Asia is growing rapidly, particularly when compared to the more mature markets of North America and Europe,” Davis said.
“However, the challenge is finding the kinds of jobs that applicants from non-Asian markets are familiar with. The sports leagues in Europe and North America have decades of experience, sophisticated structures, domains of expertise and local fan bases that have created a truly professional set of opportunities for top business people.
“The Asian markets – particularly India and the Far East – are rapidly emerging and many of the leagues, teams and sports are still relatively young compared to their counterparts from outside the region. Marketing programs are growing more sophisticated, but there are clear differences between the commercial opportunities in North America and Europe versus those in China and India, for example.”
“The good news is that the number of talented young athletes across the region is increasing rapidly, and we see more of them on teams outside the region than ever before. Jobs exist for agents and sports marketers in athlete marketing as a consequence.”
“Having a deeper understanding of local markets will be the biggest hurdle those from outside Asia will face,” Davis added. “Any person seeking a job in sports in these markets must really know a lot about these markets to really add value to a local league or club.
"Job seekers should focus on those skills that are a natural part of doing business in Asia – including developing trusting relationships and demonstrating a convincing depth of knowledge about the local sports scene.
“Job applicants will fail if they talk in generalities about their sports expertise. This sort of knowledge is common and practiced everywhere. For outside applicants to have a chance in India and the Far East, they will have to show that they really understand it.
“Sports leagues in India, China, perhaps Japan, Singapore, and parts of South East Asia, are increasingly seeking diverse points of view, so we'll see more jobs being offered to those from Europe and North America, partly because they have a wealth of knowledge about running some of the best known events in the world. But the very best jobs will go to those with both the broad knowledge and the local understanding.”
Andrew Mullen is one individual to have garnered a solid understanding of the local sector. Having graduated with a BA (Hons) Journalism degree from the University of Central Lancashire in England, he moved out to Hong Kong with the Press Association news agency’s sports division six years ago before becoming a freelance sports writer and then a Communications Executive at Asian marketing agency World Sport Group.
In his current role, Mullen has worked in China, Malaysia, Japan, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Macau, Vietnam, Australia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Korea Republic, Philippines and India, giving him a broad perspective of the Asian sports industry.
“For anyone who has moved or is considering moving, they must have ambition and the need to seek out new challenges, and this should not stop when you arrive at your new destination,” Mullen said.
“The language barrier will always present itself in Asia, but this does not have to be a major problem,” Mullen added. “Learning the local language will obviously be very beneficial, but if you have to travel, learning a few words for each country will go a long way and will always be appreciated.
“Wherever you are you will always find someone who speaks English and they will become a valuable asset, or you will always be able to provide a common ground to break down any initial language barriers.
“I once travelled to a football tournament in a small border town in Tajikistan and while I did not speak any of the local language and they spoke little English, a few mentions of Wayne Rooney and Steve Gerrard soon brought a few laughs, and through sport we managed establish some sort of communication.
“You will find that anyone who speaks even just a few words of English will want to learn from you, and any help is always appreciated. These contacts become invaluable at the time or in the future. The sporting community in Asia, despite its size, is somewhat small and you will meet the same people again and again. While it may take a few years in some cases, relationships will develop.”
Mullen believes his time in the Asian sports industry has helped him to open his “eyes to the world”, but he would urge those seeking to make a similar move to carry out thorough research of local customs and, perhaps more pressingly, immigration procedures.
“Turning up in Uzbekistan for the first time without the right paperwork is not an experience I would recommend,” he said. “Also check if you need to register with the local police, although your hotel will normally do this.
“All of this is basic for any traveller, but when travelling for work you cannot afford any problems or delays. You will need a visa for a lot of countries, and most can be easily obtained either at an embassy or consulate or an arrival at your destination. All airlines should also check you have the right paperwork before departing as you are their responsibility until you have cleared immigration.
“Knowing local customs can avoid any problems especially with the various religions in Asia. Also, researching in advance local traditional food and delicacies is also essential to be able to enjoy your trip outside of work. You will find a lot of people you meet will have recommendations or will be more than happy to show you around.”
According to Davis, living costs, as well as salaries, must be investigated before anyone makes a move to Asia.
“Compensation expectations will have to be adjusted downward if someone wants to work in the emerging markets of Asia,” he said. “However, the cost of living is sometimes lower, which can help ease the financial transition.”
For Mullen, the key is to embrace the local culture – both in and out of work – to ensure a work-related spell in Asia is an enjoyable and productive one.
“Even if your stay in the overseas location will only be a temporary one and not a long-term commitment, you must fully immerse yourself in the culture and your surroundings,” he said. “You need to live life as you would if you were at home – both in work and socially.”