Sport Trumps All in Singapore

Sport Trumps all. How Singapore is capturing the attention of fans and brands around the world

This month, the eyes of the sporting world look to Russia, where the World Cup is expected to reach new heights of worldwide viewership. But with Russia in the headlines for less savoury reasons right now, it’s perhaps not top of most people’s travel lists.

The same can’t be said about Asia, where travel and tourism continue to grow at an astonishing rate. Tourist arrivals in Singapore alone topped 17.4 million in 2017, the second year in a row with a record high, with particular growth in arrivals from China, India and Indonesia. That’s half as many as visit the UK – to a country barely 0.003% the size! And between them those visitors spent a record $26.8 billion (US$20.1billion) in Singapore last year.

For anyone who lives, or has spent time, in Singapore of late this upward trend won’t come as a surprise. In recent years, the country has shaken off its reputation as a staid stopover spot and positioned itself as one of Asia’s most dynamic destinations. The all-new SilverKris magazine, produced by Ink for Singapore Airlines, is testament to that: a globally-minded magazine, with Singapore at its heart, read by close to 2 million high-spending passengers a month on the world’s most-awarded airline! It’s no stretch to say it’s Singapore’s most prestigious international media channel.

And while the country is about to witness an unlikely coming together of world leaders, it’s well established that sports, perhaps even more than politics, has the power to build bridges and brighter futures (as well as brands). We’re in the midst of an unprecedented shift in the sporting world’s focus toward Asia: after South Korea’s Winter Olympics earlier this year, we can look forward to a Rugby World Cup in Japan in 2019, the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 and the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022; and Singapore has already cottoned on to the possibilities this presents, both for visitor numbers and spend, as well as the country’s own brand profile. The Singapore Tourism Board have invested considerable sums into building a reputation as the perfect host city for big sporting events – with Singapore’s incredible network of air connections and seamless arrival experience at Changi Airport playing a key role. Their efforts received a huge boost at the 2016 Olympics when Joseph Schooling took down his one-time idol Michael Phelps to take home Singapore’s first-ever Olympic gold medal, putting the country on the map to a whole new audience.

Some of the region’s biggest businesses are already onboard: HSBC sponsors both the annual LPGA Women’s World Championship (won this year by Michelle Wie) and the Rugby Sevens Series (held in April and fast catching up with its better-known Hong Kong edition); Standard Chartered sponsors the Singapore Marathon (the sponsorship is so well established the race is referred to simply as StanChart), while local healthy living brand OSIM (best known for their luxury massage chairs) sponsors its after-dark sibling, the Sundown Marathon; and OCBC sponsor a huge annual cycling festival. Hugo Boss, meanwhile, picked Joseph Schooling to front their latest campaign. Add to that the US$7 million Women’s Tennis Association Finals, with the world’s top eight women’s singles players and doubles teams contesting the season-ending tournament; the rise of local MMA brand ONE Championship to become Asia’s largest sports media property and a genuine rival to UFC; potentially a locally-staged fight later this year for Singapore’s first WBA champion, Muhammad Ridhwan; and the return next year of big money horse racing, and you have a pretty compelling narrative.


Photo by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas

That’s all just a warm up for September though, when Singapore goes all in on Formula One. The eleventh edition of the Singapore Grand Prix (renewed until at least 2021), and the fifth to be sponsored by Singapore Airlines, will see the world-famous night circuit light up once more from 14-16 September. On renewing their sponsorship earlier this year, Singapore Airlines CEO, Goh Choon Phong said “The Singapore Night Race is the highlight of Singapore’s sporting calendar … We look forward to showcasing this event to the world and enhancing both tourism and sports for the benefit of Singaporeans and visitors alike.” His words were echoed by Chairman and CEO of Formula 1®, Chase Carey, who said “The strength of Singapore as a destination is an example of the excitement F1 is creating around the globe and having prestigious partners such as Singapore Airlines shows our ambitious vision is shared by the market leading companies around the world.”

It’s a partnership that speaks volumes, not just about the growing profile of sports in this part of the world, but the boost big events like this can give to travel. In its first decade, the Singapore Night Race attracted over 450,000 international visitors for a single weekend (attendance last year alone rose by close to 20%) and generated about S$1.4 billion in tourism receipts, as well as showcasing the city to over 780 million international broadcast viewers. And, as an added bonus, Singapore Airlines’ direct Manchester-Singapore route means it’s easy for Liam Gallagher to join the likes of The Killers, Dua Lipa, Jay Chou and Martin Garrix as part of this year’s entertainment line-up!

With huge numbers of people flying in to Singapore for one sporting event or another – many of them on airlines carrying Ink magazines and media, be it Singapore Airlines, SilkAir, Qatar Airways, Etihad, United Airlines, American Airlines or Norwegian – now’s the perfect time to associate your brand with theirs. These are real people with serious money, whether they’re flying in from overseas (perhaps in Singapore Airlines’ incredible new Suites), or local Singaporeans, the kind of people who can afford to buy incredibly expensive cars to emulate their F1 heroes, pay to play at some of the world’s most expensive golf courses, and for whom the 5Cs (cash, car, credit card, condominium and country club membership) aren’t aspirational, they’re simply a starting point. Credit Suisse ranks Singaporeans as the richest per capita in Asia, while Fortune says it’s the third richest country in the world.

For sports brands, this is the perfect audience and the perfect market to be making a splash (or swing or kick). But the same is true for any brand interested in Asia’s C-suite executives or its millionaire millennials. They don’t just want the best luggage and the finest clothes, or to stay in the most exclusive resorts, they need market-leading insurance, private banking, bespoke healthcare. Where better to reach them than as they relax on a flight to or from an exciting weekend of sport in the best-connected city in all of Asia?

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