In Asia, parasport sponsorship has not always been the easiest sell. As Kevin Wong, chairman of the Singapore National Paralympic Council, has said: “We are telling the community that this is what is needed, and we will do our best to raise the money. If we are unable to raise it, we will have to cut back.
“Our approach is not ‘pity me, please give me money’. Our sportsmen and women overcame many challenges to be where they are…many companies have these shared values; they see the value in it and can use it to multiply their brand presence.”
It’s this same pitch on values that succeeded for the Badminton World Federation in persuading Total, a sponsor of the BWF World Championships since 2015, to extend its support to the Para-Badminton World Championships this year. The two events were held together at the same venue for the first time this year.
Thomas Lund, the BWF secretary-general, tells SportBusiness: “We were fortunate that hosts Basel had offered to host both the para and able-bodied World Championships at the same time, which allows interest transfers and synergies that we wouldn’t be able to achieve usually.”
The Total factor
“They’re fantastic sponsors,” Lund says of Total, “and genuinely interested in badminton. Most oil and gas companies are into motorsport sponsorship, but Total have chosen to go laterally to consumers via badminton, whose fans are from the same community and demographic as consumers of their product.
“We didn’t need to twist their arms, but just pitched how it’s worth sponsoring para-badminton to grow the discipline to a higher level and help build the whole infrastructure for the sport by sponsoring the Para-Badminton World Championships.”
The growth of badminton in Asia in recent years was also a key factor in Total’s decision to grow their partnership, with a recent Nielsen Sports report showing that from 2015 to 2018, the badminton fan base grew 79 per cent in China, 29 per cent in India and 75 per cent in Indonesia.
Christine Richard, Total’s vice-president for specialties and B2B, says: “Badminton is one of Asia’s most popular sports, and our partnership with the BWF has created a lasting brand impact in terms of brand awareness and engagement with stakeholders: 38 tournaments played in 15 countries across Asia, with over 600 million potential households reached globally every year.
“Our investment to champion badminton has been significant over the last five years, and Total is pleased that our contribution has helped raise awareness and participation for the sport.”
The power of social media
A one-minute rally between two para-badminton players – Daniel Chan and Andrew Martin – went viral on Facebook earlier this year, garnering over two million views and over 20,000 likes. It’s a good example of how BWF’s strategy to position para-badminton content via short-form content is working.
At this year’s BWF World Championships in August, the BWF had a camera on all courts teaming to a production centre, so they could produce a single stream showing the diversity of para badminton and its different disciplines. Lund says: “We are trying to create a product that works for digital audiences. Each match is a drama in itself, whether it’s wheelchair badminton or players jumping around one-legged – how they get around the court is athletic and good fun.
“We don’t want to speak down to para-badminton, of course, but there is real entertainment value in the sport. Even if viewers don’t know the para-athletes personally, nationality is always a way to get audiences to support their own countrymen and women.
“Digital and social media have certainly changed parasports – social media, in particular, loves narratives, and this is a gamechanger for sponsors, whose key performance indicators will always be exposure and awareness.”
While new analysis by sports marketing agency Two Circles suggests spending on sports sponsorship will reach almost $63bn by 2024, Lund is realistic about the levels parasport can reach, and says: “I don’t think parasport will ever be a billion-dollar industry, but it doesn’t need to be. What BWF wants is to grow it to a level where we can find support by sponsors to help us do more.
“It’s about inclusivity and accessibility for all, whether able-bodied or disabled, and it’s also part of our mission of being a non-profit sports organization.”
Badminton will be an official sport for the first time at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, and Lund is hopeful that this can help provide more momentum to para-badminton. He says: “One of para-badminton’s key challenges is a lack of exposure. We’ve been working with the community and sport since 2011 and exposing it via our media channels to raise viewership numbers, but in the next twelve months we will really try to piggy back on the sport making its debut at the Paralympic Games.
“Right now, the structure’s quite flat but there are national structures for parasports in most countries and, who knows, perhaps after the Paralympics we might be able to get the right interest and sponsors and even be able to arrange a tour!”