Tom Elsden on how Mailman is helping sports organisations thrive in China

Mailman is a sports digital agency which helps leading sports organisations serve their audiences and build their businesses in China. The Playknox spoke with Tom Elsden, Business Director of the Mailman Group to know more about the organisation’s work. Excerpts: 


Tell us more about the work Mailman does. Why has APAC been such a big focus?

Mailman began as a China sports marketing agency but we saw an increasing focus from our clients into the APAC region as the sports audience rapidly grew. We’re seeing passionate new fan groups and new opportunities to drive revenue so we’re really confident about further expansion in this region.

APAC has been just an exciting region for us as each country is so unique and requires a specialist focus. We have Country Managers based in India, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Korea, Japan, and Malaysia that are driving our clients digital brand growth with local expertise and insights. This has all been managed from our Singapore HQ that is ensuring a consistent strategy and brand quality control.


How has Mailman tackled COVID19 challenges? How have the dynamics changed during the lockdown period?


We had to adapt during the COVID-19 period, especially as this started to impact live sports in Europe and the US from around March. Our first priority was to ensure our clients knew we had them covered and that we would be flexible to their needs in whatever shape that took. This was really important to make clear to all our fantastic clients across the world. We also released a Post COVID-19 Playbook, highlighting opportunities for global sports post COVID-19 in China.

The next step was to think ‘how can we tackle the lack of live sports?’. This gave our digital and creative teams a further impetus to ideate new content formats to engage our fans. Sports organisations are so lucky that we always have an upcoming match or story to talk about on social, so we really enjoyed this challenge of having a blank canvas and not having to rely on a match.

As China has gradually returned to normal, we’ve also been able to observe the market here and then slowly implement some of these learnings across APAC regions that are similarly opening up.




How important is China or APAC for different sporting organisations globally? What makes China so valuable?

China has to be the number one priority for sports organisations outside of their home market. There is such a great push for sports from the top down and this isn’t going to stop. We’ve seen significant growth across consumption on social and broadcast, as well as rising participation levels.

This isn’t just in the top sports like football and basketball, but also in swimming, running and others. It’s a great opportunity for these sports organisations to make an impact and build a new culture for sports participation in the world’s most populated country.

There’s also huge commercial interest from not only brands but local governments. This is especially the case for football, but we’ve had a lot of conversations with brands asking how they can enter the sports and also esports world.


How are clubs adapting Chinese social media platforms to grow their fan base?

There is huge competition between European football clubs on Chinese social media so it’s a really interesting space to see who’s doing what differently. I still think there has been a lack of true innovation here with many playing it safe though. We do an annual Red Card report which analyses how European football clubs are engaging their fan bases across China.

The big shift in 2020 was new Direct to Consumer initiatives. Tottenham Hotspur were one of the first to leverage this with social commerce, combining video content with products to truly engage their fan base.

Ecommerce by clubs in China has suddenly seen an upward trend. Why so?

Two main reasons.

The first is that there is an existing behaviour from Chinese netizens to purchase through online platforms. The mobile generation are willing to spend through their mobile devices on a regular basis.

The second is accessibility. It is now easier than ever to launch a social commerce store on the leading platforms including Kuaishou, Douyin and WeChat. This only requires a small set-up fee and then the ability to produce merchandise in the market. This should be a major trend for sports clubs and organisations in 2021.

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