INTEREST IN SPORT comes naturally in a country where the stunning landscape provides an enticing platform for outdoor activities.
However, sporting success has not always come easily. Chile has only ever won two gold medals at the summer Olympic Games, for example – and both of those came at the Athens Games in 2004 thanks to tennis star Nicolás Massú.
Traditionally, despite being the national sport, football has only brought modest success to the country, which hosted the Fifa World Cup in 1962, but then had to wait until 2010 for its next victory at the tournament.
However, in recent times the national team has lifted expectations, winning consecutive Copa America titles in 2015 and 2016 after an encouraging showing at the 2014 World Cup.
Sport has a fight to contend with competition from other strands of Chile’s growing entertainment industry, though.
According to INE, although the total attendance at domestic top-flight Primera División matches increased from 2.5 million to 4.1 million between 1997 and 2012, the increase in the total attendance in a rival entertainment sector, movie theatres, rocketed from 2.9 million to 20.1 million over the same period.
The country’s biggest football club, Colo-Colo, is usually the only outfit able to attract crowds in excess of 10,000, but still regularly plays in a stadium that is about two-thirds empty.
In spite of these challenges, though, there are significant engagement opportunities for the sports industry in Chile.
Between 2009 and 2014 sales of sports apparel and footwear increased in Chile by an average of five per cent year-on-year, according to Euromonitor International.
Football – the undisputed king of Chilean sport – was responsible for a large chunk of sales. When Chile qualified for the Fifa World Cup in 2010 for the first time in 12 years, sales of the national team’s replica shirt hit 335,000 in the four months before the conclusion of the tournament – more than double the figure in the previous year
However, there are concerns that the dominance of football in the country has been to the detriment of other sports properties in sports marketing.
The Santiago International Marathon and Pucón International Triathlon generate substantial interest and thousands of participants, but football’s national team and national league, as well as Colo-Colo and the nation’s other two top clubs, Universidad de Chile and Universidad Católica, attract the lion’s share of media attention. The country’s top sports stars – the likes of Arturo Vidal, Alexis Sanchez and Claudio Bravo – are also footballers.
Last year sportswear giant Nike won the right to supply kit and equipment to Chile’s national team in a deal with the ANFP, Chile’s national football association, to run until the 2022 World Cup. Nike will reportedly pay $7m per year – three times the value of the previous deal with Puma, demonstrating the increasing appeal of the Chile national team.
“High-quality properties in Chile are scarce compared with other countries in the region and this is related mainly to the huge pre-eminence of football,” said Felipe Venegas, managing director for Chile at the You First Sports athlete representation and sports marketing agency.
More than 80 per cent of Chileans either follow or play football, and West Virginia University’s Gonzalo Bravo is in little doubt that it will continue to be the No.1 sport for at least the next 20 to 25 years.
There remain sports marketing challenges within Chilean football itself, though. According to Venegas, the league needs to close the gap to the national team in terms of commercial appeal and the national team has an opportunity to progress to the next level and become an international property, rather than purely a local brand that is followed by Chileans.
However, Bravo anticipates growth for other sectors in terms of participation and engagement. Outdoor activities, cycling and running have enjoyed significant increases in apparel and equipment sales in recent years.
“I believe there are three niche areas that currently define the state of the sports industry in Chile and will keep growing in the next 10 to 20 years,” he says.
“First is football; the interest for football – spectator and participant – keeps growing and without any doubt will continue to be the No.1 sport in the country.
“Second, the rise of the fitness industry, with activities like pilates, cross fit, running and yoga, is notable in Chile, particularly over the past 15 years.
“Third is the emergence of adventure and outdoor sports, like mountain biking, trekking, surfing and any other recreational sports that take place outdoors.”
Venegas believes that the evolution of how brands engage with Chileans through these emerging activities is going to be the next great change for the sports marketing industry in the country.
“Historically, brands have used sport just as a way to show themselves and to create brand awareness by just ‘being there’,” Venegas says. “From that perspective, the ROI measurement has been almost the only way to evaluate assets in this market.
“However, brands have started to see that this is not enough, in part because everybody does the same, but mainly because audiences have become more demanding in the role of brands. The audience just doesn’t see and doesn’t believe brands that don’t do something more.”
Chile’s prolific winemaking industry has enjoyed penetration in sport, particularly in the case of the aptly-named ‘Bicicleta’ brand from provider Cono Sur, a sponsor of cycling’s Tour de France.
Earlier this year, French winemakers threatened, albeit fruitlessly, to block the race unless Bicicleta was replaced by a homegrown wine, providing the sponsor with extra exposure worldwide through the sport’s most famous event.
Other top sports properties have linked up with Chilean wines, with Casillero del Diablo backing the NHL ice hockey franchise, the New Jersey Devils, and English Premier League football club Arsenal unveiling a partnership with Santa Rita as recently as June of this year. Wine partnerships often include on-site activation through pouring rights, but it is up to brands to “interact and engage with the audience,” according to Venegas.
“I believe we will see a development in terms of experience for the audience. I see a strong usage of new media, social networks, apps and other platforms to address a broader audience, and really take full advantage of the association of the brand with a specific rights-holder.
“From sport’s point of view, there should be a rise in the standards of the experience offered from properties to their audience, both in terms of on-site experience and from the media content angle. There is also an increasing number of Chileans practising sports, which will lead to a higher proportion of people being interested in sports properties.”
The key is for Chilean properties to offer a more appealing platform for sponsors. “I’ve seen a slow professionalisation and diversification in the way those properties approach brands,” Venegas adds. “A consequence of that is related to brand activation. It is not enough to just ‘be there’.
“Sports properties will have to learn how to deliver a higher value, both to their specific audience and sponsors, increasing the added value for their clients. For brands, there’s a big opportunity regarding how to create valuable experiences for the target audience, both on-site and off-site through new media.”
More on Chile: