SINGAPORE: Brands can increase their prospects of engaging with Asian consumers through leveraging the region's growing passion for sport, a leading industry figure has argued.

Lisa Johnson, Asia director of the GMR Marketing agency, told Campaign Asia Pacific that sports marketing gives brands "a unique opportunity to have a conversation within consumers' hearts and minds, and to build a personal relationship and loyalty to the brand through sports."

Several factors are driving the wider interest in sports in the region. Governments have increased funding for sports programmes and infrastructure, international events such as the Beijing Olympics and Asian Games have left a sporting legacy, a new generation of Asian stars are inspiring children and mobile devices have made sporting content more easily accessible.

Johnson pointed to the way sport is being marketed as entertainment in order to attract younger consumers. She cited the examples of the rock concerts that accompany Formula 1 motor racing in Singapore and the Bollywood stars performing in the opening ceremony of Indian Premier League cricket.

But perhaps the biggest sports marketing opportunity in the region is in football. Viewership of the AFC Champions League was up 53% in 2012 and the competition is expected to attract more sponsorship.

Brands are moving away from traditional marketing, noted Johnson. "We see more digital, point to sell, activation, outdoor, endorsement, and sponsorship, driven by multi-channel consumers," she added.

Branded content is another area growing in importance as young people are accustomed to consuming such material via mobile. Johnson advised clubs, players and rights holders to be aware of how content is managed on social media platforms and to avoid handling adverse opinions badly.

Government investment in sport has played a major role, Johnson suggested, in offering "more opportunities for brands to connect with the consumer base and tap into that passion for teams and sports. It also gives more layers for brands to invest in".

Ultimately, the combination of government and commercial investment "will promote grassroots sports, creating a stronger, better sports ecosystem," Johnson said.

Data sourced from Campaign Asia-Pacific; additional content by Warc staff