AFL Promotion Helps To Strenghten Sino-Australian Trade Ties

16.08.2017 Tim Michael
AFL Promotion Helps To Strenghten Sino-Australian Trade Ties

Who ever thought Australian Rules football could be successfully exported to China? But thanks to some forward thinking from officials at the Port Adelaide Football Club the game is now taking off in a big way.

Earlier this year China was given a sample of the thrill and excitement of Australian Rules football when Shanghai hosted its first ever AFL contest.

The game at Jiangwan Stadium between Port Adelaide and the Gold Coast Suns proved an outstanding success, attracting a capacity crowd in excess of 10,000.

But off the field, the benefits that will flow to Australian business are even more promising.

The promotion is the brainchild of a long- time Port Adelaide Football Club member who floated the idea about two years ago.

Denis Way, who has resided in Hong Kong since 1971, said football was an ideal way for the Port Adelaide club – and Australian business – to engage with China.

At that time, there were about 100 professional sporting clubs in Australia, all competing for sponsorship from a relatively small pool of local companies. And each club was vying for members and fans from a relatively small population.

China was considered an uncontested space for Australian sporting teams, so there was a logic to the proposal.

A senior executive Matthew Richardson discussed the issue with the CEO and board, who decided to embrace the initiative – and the rest as they say, is history.

Andrew Hunter, who joined the club in March 2015, was appointed General Manager responsible for Port Adelaide’s China Engagement Strategy.

He currently has six people working under him on the project, with ambitious plans to further expand the team.

Mr Hunter works closely with club CEO Keith Thomas and is responsible for the implementation of the club’s engagement in China, including government relations and commercialisation.

He is proud of the many benefits that continue to flow from the China promotion.

“Port Adelaide has established itself as a legitimate bridge between the governments, businesses and people of Australia and China,” he says.

“Port Adelaide also brings Australian and Chinese businesses together. We have connected with a substantial number of new partners because of the China Engagement Strategy – some of which have contributed substantially to the club.

“We have a business matching forum (China Power Club) and run investment attraction forums at which Australian companies present projects to Chinese investors.

“Finally, and perhaps most meaningfully, we bring people together. For example, we invite Chinese students to each of our home games. It is not always easy for international students to feel a part of their host community, but when
these students put on the Port Adelaide scarf and attend a game, they feel part of something bigger. We also do a range of events in the Chinese community.”

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the AFL China promotion in April last year during Australia Week in China in Shanghai, and Premier Li Keqiang attended Port Adelaide’s round 1 match this season.

When tickets to the Shanghai event went on sale earlier this year the game was sold out in under two hours.

“The supporters, both Australian and Chinese, enjoyed the experience,” said Mr Hunter

“The networking that took place in the hospitality tents at the game is becoming legendary.” Mr Hunter said the club is increasingly able to provide Australian companies with access to a strong pool of partners in China.

“It helps to be referred by a trusted third party,” he says.

“The support of Prime Minister Turnbull and Premier Li has certainly helped in that respect, as people acknowledge that we are contributing to sports diplomacy, which will have a positive impact on the broader relationship.

“Port Adelaide is therefore developing a strong reputation in China, and the club is increasingly seen as a trusted partner. Being a partner of Port Adelaide therefore would help legitimise the brand of our partners looking to China.”

As well as promoting the club, Port Adelaide’s China Engagement Strategy has been instrumental in promoting trade ties between the two nations.

As part of the strategy, the China Power Club has been launched to attract businesses interested in engaging in China, or with the Chinese community in Australia.

The Club conducts a series of events around football games or events at which they can network.

“Each company or individual pays a membership fee, which provides a price point which ensures that the companies are of a certain quality,” says Mr Hunter.

“In return, we provide access at our events and games to business groups like the Shanghai Entrepreneurs Association, migrant investors and business people from China, and our Chinese partners and their associates.”

The group is building each year. Apart from making connections in China, Club members also develop a strong connection with each other, for commercial benefit and information-sharing.

“Some China Power Club members, such as Cathay Pacific and Haneco Lighting, have elevated their engagement with Port Adelaide to become significant sponsors of the club.”

Last month, the China Power Club hosted a Business Opportunities Forum before play began at Port Adelaide’s home match against the Brisbane Lions.

Six South Australian companies presented investment opportunities to 45 investors from China and Malaysia and their representatives who flew in to attend the event and match.

“Although it is too early to tell whether outcomes will be achieved, there is substantial interest in at least four of the six projects, which we see as very positive,” Mr Hunter said.

Similar events are planned before the end of the year.

“We are in conversation with the Shanghai Entrepreneurs Association and also with partners in other parts of China.

“We would like to replicate the same model as the Business Opportunities Forum but hold the event in China, to reach a new audience.

“Discussions have thus far been positive.”

Mr Hunter said the club is now considering expanding its sporting and business network outside China.

“For the moment, we are looking to build upon our partnership with DCNS to develop other opportunities with French companies.

“As a French-speaker, long-time resident of France and member of the South Australia Government’s French Engagement Advisory Group, I am keen to see what opportunities might be available in developing a deeper connection with France.”

*This article was first published on pages 1 of Winter 2017 International Business Today Magazine.

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