DDMC Fortis becomes FMA and remains bullish as AFC project enters ‘operational’ phase

Football Marketing Asia CEO Patrick Murphy (Image credit: FMA)

  • CEO Patrick Murphy explains rebrand and progress
  • More media rights and sponsorship deals done, awaiting announcements
  • Second half of 2020 will see AFC competitions rebranded and marketed

The second half of 2020 will be a critical period for Football Marketing Asia, the agency formerly known as DDMC Fortis. After two years of planning and sales, the agency with the exclusive mandate to market the commercial rights of the Asian Football Confederation from 2021 to 2028 enters an ‘operational’ phase, in which it starts delivering on outward-facing aspects of the deal. These include launching marketing campaigns for the AFC national team and club competitions, rebranding these competitions, incorporating new commercial partners into the marketing campaigns, and preparing to broadcast matches from an expected start date in March 2021.

In the background, the real meat of the FMA-AFC partnership – media and sponsorship deals – must continue to be negotiated and finalised, as the agency chases one of the most daunting minimum guarantee targets in the business.

FMA has rebranded from its original DDMC Fortis name ahead of the next phase. Patrick Murphy, the agency’s CEO, tells SportBusiness“As we move towards the actual operational phase of the business, we thought it was a good time to evolve our brand and make it simpler and more descriptive. The change in our identity reflects our unwavering belief in Asian football and also our dedication to bring in a new era of Asian football, for commercial partners and also the fans.”

DDMC Fortis was a “utilitarian” brand reflecting the fact the company was created jointly by Chinese sports, media and entertainment group DDMC, and the Fortis Sports agency created by Murphy and business partner David Tyler. The company wanted a brand that better reflected what it does and chose a name that stated that in simple terms.

“It simply reflects the nature of our position in the market better…because that’s what we are – football marketing agents,” Murphy says.

The new logo is red, emblematic of the company’s Chinese origins but also, Murphy points out, a colour that is important across East Asia, appearing on several national flags. To reflect the diversity of the continent and FMA itself, the brand artwork includes several alternative coloured logos, including a green one, a symbolic colour in areas including the Muslim world in West Asia.

Artwork for the new Football Marketing Asia brand (Image credit: FMA)

Wide remit

FMA’s remit with the AFC amounts to a commercial overhaul of the confederation’s competitions. As well as rights sales and competition rebranding, the work will include improving broadcast production quality, assessing changes to competition formats, and creating new commercial opportunities including regional sponsorship packages. 

Given Murphy and Tyler’s background at Team Marketing, FMA’s work has been compared to the revamp of Uefa’s club competitions by the Swiss agency in the 1990s, which preceded enormous growth in those events’ revenues. FMA’s responsibility is wider, covering not just AFC’s top club competitions – the AFC Champions League and the AFC Cup –  but every national team and club competition at all ages and for all genders. These include:

  • AFC Asian Cup, 2023 and 2027
  • Final rounds of Fifa World Cup Asian qualifiers for 2022 and 2026
  • AFC Champions League, 2021 to 2028
  • AFC Cup, 2021 to 2028
  • AFC Women’s Cup, 2022 and 2026
  • Men’s and women’s youth championships, 2021 to 2028
  • Futsal Championships, 2021 to 2028.

And FMA has already guaranteed the AFC a huge jump in revenues. Previous agency partner Lagardère Sports – which coincidentally also rebranded this month – guaranteed the confederation $75m (€67m) per year between 2017 and 2020 for global commercial rights. FMA is understood to have guaranteed an average of nearly $300m per year between 2021 and 2028 in a deal that excludes media rights in the Middle East, one of the biggest deals in the last cycle.

FMA’s progress on commercial rights sales is a matter of scrutiny and discussion throughout the industry. Can they pull it off, particularly now in the middle of a pandemic and global economic crisis? As time ticks towards the start of the new cycle, and with only three deals announced to date – for media rights in Indonesia, South Korea and Taiwan – the scrutiny is increasing.

FMA is currently engaged in selling rights for the first of the two cycles its deal covers, 2021-24. Murphy tells SportBusiness that “eight or nine” more major media rights deals have been agreed but are yet to be announced. “We have covered an awful lot of the media market already and some of the deals that we’ve done are really interesting and exciting,” he says. “I’m actually very happy with how the media rights have gone.”

There are also “seven or eight big sponsorship deals” in place. Sponsors are waiting to hook their deal announcements on AFC calendar milestones such as competition draws.

The Covid-19 downturn has affected sales, more on the sponsorship than the media rights side, Murphy said. “The last four to six months has been obviously a difficult time…not so much for the media business, but the sponsorship market has definitely slowed down in some parts of the region.” This slowdown is manifesting in potential clients delaying their decisions, rather than withdrawing interest, he says.

‘Compelling alternatives’

Murphy thinks the revamped AFC media rights and sponsorship packages offer “compelling” alternatives to the international and European rights properties that broadcasters and brands in Asia have targeted in recent years.

Full details of the changes to the rights packages have not yet been unveiled, although one change from previous cycles is understood to be the availability of regionally-targeted sponsorship and advertising packages, using digital advertising replacement technology.

Asian brands have recently invested in globally-popular sports sponsorship properties, including the Olympics, Fifa World Cup and Uefa competitions, to market themselves to international audiences.

FMA has been seeking major uplifts in deal values compared to previous AFC rights cycles, but Murphy says his rights packages still represent good value for money when compared to the big European and global properties. “The kind of prices that we’re looking for this content, which is local content, in the same time zones, very relevant, highly-rated content…[we can] make compelling arguments that this is just much better value.”

Not all the major sponsorship deals for 2021-24 will be agreed prior to the start of the cycle, with deals for later properties, such as the 2023 Asian Cup, likely to take longer. The Asian Cup, the AFC’s quadrennial national team showpiece, will be a critical revenue-generator. It takes place in China, where much of the growth of the value of the AFC’s commercial rights is expected to come from. Football is a major focus for the Chinese government, as part of its strategy to build a modern sports industry and as a favoured sport of President Xi Jinping. FMA’s Chinese joint-owners are expected to use their inside knowledge of the market to develop lucrative sponsorship and media rights deals.

Murphy says China “will give us a huge opportunity for continued growth in the future”. The 2023 Asian Cup is “a huge bonus and…we’re looking forward to the AFC appointing the host nation for 2027”. The current contenders to host the 2027 tournament include Qatar and Saudi Arabia, another two rich nations where governments are investing heavily in sport.

Infrastructure investment

FMA has fulfilled all its obligations to the AFC to date, including rights fee instalments as well as investments in resources to support the revamp of the confederation’s competitions, Murphy says. “We have fulfilled all our commitments to the AFC…including making a huge investment in people, resources.”

The company has 64 staff, mostly based at the headquarters in Hong Kong, with some in secondary offices in Dubai and Singapore. It is planning to add around 25 more people this year as it enters the operational phase and is in the process of opening an office in Malaysia.

There has been a focus on creating a diverse team in order to operate effectively in an incredibly diverse geographical area, and Murphy noted they hail from 17 countries and are well-balanced in terms of male and female staff.

“We have people who have got very deep football experience from working with clubs, governing bodies and other rights agencies. Also people that have extensive experience marketing for different properties across the different regions of Asia. We’ve got people who’ve worked on the client side, with broadcasters and with brands. And we’ve also added some out-of-the-box experience, such as people who’ve worked in the advertising world, the branding worlds and even the music business.

“We’re trying to blend very strong international expertise, knowledge of how the best events in the world work, but also then a very strong level of local expertise and local experience.”

Still bullish

Despite the challenges ahead and the unexpected Covid-19 interruption, Murphy is “more excited now than I was two years ago” about the project. He pointed to the ground covered so far and – drawing on themes discussed in an interview with SportBusiness Media two years ago – the strong, long-term fundamentals in Asia.

“We’ve established a very good working relationship with the AFC. Jointly with our partners at the AFC, I think we’ve created really exciting commercial concepts both on the media side and on the sponsorship side. And we’ve built an incredible team of people working in very good harmony with each other.

“In terms of the long-term opportunity, it’s still very much the things that convinced us to bid aggressively for the rights in the first place…It’s a very exciting region, and it contains some of the biggest markets in the world, some of the biggest growth markets in the world, and it’s got a huge passion for football. So the underlying interest in our products is incredibly strong. 

“All those fundamental things about the property are there, we’ve got a double-cycle of rights, and we’ve got national team and club rights, which is very unusual. So all of the underlying factors are still really exciting.”

The eyes of the entire Asian sports industry will remain on the newly-branded FMA as it moves into its next phase to see if it can follow through on the great promise of its partnership with the AFC.

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