Mystery ads dominating tennis coverage

At the Australian Open all eyes are on the big names that hope to earn millions if they win - the likes of Federer, Djokovic and Barty.

And scattered around the court are other big names that have paid tens of millions in the hope we might briefly see them - the likes of ANZ Bank, Kia and Emirates.

But you might be scratching your head at some of the Australian Open sponsors. Their logos are as big and bold as any of the others - bigger in some cases - and yet they are virtually unknown names to Australian audiences.

Ganten anyone? What about Guojiao 1573, a brand that is dwarfed only by headline sponsor Kia? Never heard of it? You're not alone.

The two brands are part of a growing number of Chinese brands that have decided to spend up big on the Australian Open.

And the owners don't mind a bit if you don't recognise the names - it's not Australians they're looking to impress. In fact, the vast majority of the Australian audience is "irrelevant" to the Chinese brands, a sports marketing expert has told news.com.au.

 

Rafael Nadal in front of a wall of Guojiao 1573 branding. It’s one of the most premium liquor brands in China and is fermented in the ‘national cellar’. Picture: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Rafael Nadal in front of a wall of Guojiao 1573 branding. It’s one of the most premium liquor brands in China and is fermented in the ‘national cellar’. Picture: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Ganten and Guojiao 1573 have both came on-board with the event in recent years. The former became the official bottled water of the tournament in 2018 after organisers Tennis Australia (TA) inked a four-year deal with Shenzhen Ganten Food & Beverage.

Ganten water is advertised on the umpire's chairs, and stars drink from bottles between sets. Spectators can also pick up a bottle or two at Melbourne Park.

But away from the Open, Ganten is barely available in Australia.

The brand caused a stir last year when Australian bottled water brands queried why a Chinese rival was being shipped in when perfectly good water brands were produced here. But TA said it had a long history of partnering with international brands.

RELATED: Why is the Australian Open's 'official water' imported from China?

Guojiao 1573 is a very different drink. Translated as National Cellar 1573, it's produced by Luzhou Laojiao, a distillery that traces its origin back to the Ming Dynasty.

It's a type of baijiu, a strong liquor made from grain that has the look of sake or vodka but the complexity of whisky. The sheer amount of baijiu drunk in China makes it the world's most consumed spirit, but in Australia it's only available from large or specialist bottle shops such as Dan Murphy's.

Ganten, the branding seen here behind Nick Kyrgios, is the official water of the Open. Picture: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
Ganten, the branding seen here behind Nick Kyrgios, is the official water of the Open. Picture: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

AUSTRALIAN AUDIENCE 'IRRELEVANT'

Both Ganten and Guojiao 1573 are premium brands, and that's critical as to why they are so ubiquitous at the Open, said Associate Professor Sarah Kelly, a sports marketing expert at the University of Queensland.

"When you talk of sponsorship we think about the fit and tennis aligns with premium brands and a premium target audience," she told news.com.au.

"1573's name is about the year it was first produced, so it has this brand of long-term tradition, trust and consistently high quality, so they are hoping that image will be enhanced by the premium image of this tournament."

The brands might have "absolutely no recognition" among Australians, said Prof Kelly, but that wasn't an issue.

"There's 25 million of us and probably three million that follow the tennis - that is a tiny market, so we're irrelevant given the global reach of grand slams where billions tune in," she said.

"They're looking at the Asian and, particularly, the Chinese market.

"The whole of Asia loves their tennis, and given the time zone and proximity, the Australian Open is really seen as the Asian grand slam with the Chinese as one of the largest segments of viewers. Coming to the Open is a bucket-list thing for many Chinese tourists, and they will often time visits to Australia in January to see the event live."

Kia aside, Guojiao 1573 is probably the most prominent brand at the Open. Picture: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
Kia aside, Guojiao 1573 is probably the most prominent brand at the Open. Picture: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

TA hasn't revealed how much the Luzhou Laojiao distillery paid to have their biggest brand's name in Chinese and English placed behind the world's most famous players.

But in late 2018, when the new sponsorship was unveiled, TA chief executive officer Craig Tiley said it was a lucrative addition to the Open.

"This is far and away the most significant deal we have ever done in China. Indeed, it is one of the biggest partnership deals we have done. It helps us push very strongly into the next phase of our global business growth," he said of Guojiao 1573 taking the spot on court previously occupied by Jacob's Creek wines.

 

 

Guojiao 1573 baijiu brand is a premium brand in China.
Guojiao 1573 baijiu brand is a premium brand in China.

TENS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS

Given Kia's sponsorship deal is worth $85 million and the Guojiao 1573 branding is only slightly less prominent, it's likely the Chinese liquor firm paid tens of millions of dollars to have their signage emblazoned all over the Rod Laver and Margaret Court arenas. Indeed, the third arena is now called the "1573 Arena" for the duration of the Open.

It's a coup for TA to find a new sponsorship stream and a wise move by the Chinese brands, said Prof Kelly.

"There's a concept of 'displaced fandom', fans that are not geographically present where a local team or event is situated," she said.

"So a big soccer team like FC Barcelona has more fans outside Spain than in Spain, and there are similarities with the Open - there will be more fans in China than Australia."

Indeed, TA has been using its new Chinese partners to make more of a splash in the world's most populous country.

In November 2018, to create a buzz in China ahead of last year's tournament, TA staged a number of Australian Open events in Shanghai. These included a "floating Rod Laver Arena" and the "Ganten Tennis Club", where parents and kids could pick up a racquet and have a bash at playing a game.

"Developing an Australian Open brand exclusively for China is a big part of engaging our fans and showing them how serious we are about promoting not just our event but the sport of tennis in the region," Mr Tiley said at the time.

Australian tennis player Jordan Thompson surrounded by Ganten brands and Ganten water bottles Picture: Mark Stewart
Australian tennis player Jordan Thompson surrounded by Ganten brands and Ganten water bottles Picture: Mark Stewart

TA also includes DeRucci beds as a partner. Although the name may sound Italian, DeRucci is a Chinese firm.

Prof Kelly said the interest of Chinese brands in the Open wasn't just down to brand recognition. It could also be down to how Chinese firms do business.

"There's a lot of hospitality that is a reward for clients, so they might be flying some wholesalers out to the Open to meet some of the players, and all of that is of high value to business development in Asian markets," she said.

"It's the VIP experience only sport can deliver."

But just because we're more familiar with the likes of Kia, Emirates and ANZ doesn't mean they aren't doing something similar to Ganten and Luzhou Laojiao.

They may have more of an eye on the Australian consumer. However, they all also have extensive Asian operations.

ANZ, for instance, has a longstanding and growing presence in major Asian markets such as Hong Kong and Singapore. Its ads at Rod Laver Arena are as much for audiences in Asia as Australia.

Kia, long known as a budget car brand, is also hoping some of that premium Australian Open sparkle will rub off on its name across Asia.

Prof Kelly said the Open was unlikely to be the last Australian tournament to feature brands aiming for overseas domestic audiences and that nation's diaspora. Esports, for instance, was huge in China, she said.

"If the tournaments are big enough and resonate with the Chinese, absolutely it will happen," Prof Kelly said.

 

benedict.brook@news.com.au


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