Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on January 30, 2009
As anybody who has watched even a few minutes of the Australian Open can tell you, Kia is a big sponsor of the year’s first big tennis tournament. The Korean automaker has its name plastered around the stadium courts at Melbourne Park, where Serena Williams will try to win her 10th Grand Slam title on Saturday and Roger Federer will go for his record-tying 14th on Sunday. Having some of the biggest names in the sport making it to the finals is great for Kia, which already is on something of a roll. Like its parent Hyundai, the company has been taking advantage of a weak Korean currency to gain ground on Japanese rivals.
Unfortunately for a tournament that bills itself “the Grand Slam of Asia/Pacific,” the Kia sponsorship is one of the only ties between the Aussie tournament and Asia. The other sponsors are all Aussie or Western: IBM, GE Money, Rolex, etc. The location isn’t helpful, either: Melbourne not only isn’t part of Asia, it’s not even on the Pacific. (Sydney, with its Pacific location and stronger connections to the region, would probably be a better fit.) But with the Victoria government having just announced a proposal to spiff up Melbourne Park in order to keep the Open, chances of the tournament moving elsewhere are pretty slim.
That said, if the Aussies were serious about turning their championship into a showcase for tennis in Asia, they could start by pushing the Open back a few weeks and giving promoters of Asian tournaments a chance to launch more tune-up events. This year the Open started on Jan. 19, leaving only two weeks after the Christmas/New Year holidays for players to get ready in smaller tournaments nearby. Push back a few weeks and then you have time for a real Asia-Pacific season, like the European clay court season that culminates with the French Open in May. Even with the Chinese and Indian economies in the doldrums, Asia remains the fastest-growing part of the world, with the greatest potential for multinationals in all sorts of industries. There should be interest among would-be sponsors in reaching more sports fans in the region.