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World Cup Excitement Reaches New Heights in Asia - 2002-05-31

In Asia, the excitement surrounding the World Cup hits new heights. Fans who could not make it to Japan or Korea have bought new television sets, or staked out bars, in which to watch their favorite football teams. But with so many people focused on the matches, resorts, retailers and restaurants are forced to find new ways to keep business from dropping off.

World Cup fever has spread across Asia faster than you can say David Beckham. Many companies in Asia are jumping on the World Cup bandwagon to market their goods and services.

For weeks, Hong Kong billboards, buses, and trams have been plastered with pictures of football stars, such as Mr. Beckham. The message? Get cable television and watch the games in the comfort of your own home.

Sports bars in the city are competing with splashy newspaper advertisements describing the number and size of their television sets. One bar in Hong Kong's Kowloon district boasts seven wide-screen sets, and promises patrons that every single World Cup game will be shown live.

Even upscale restaurants are getting in on the act.

Helen Chow is a marketing executive with Dot Cod, an exclusive restaurant catering to a country club crowd. She says fans need not settle for peanuts and beer when they go out to watch the action. Instead, they can enjoy gourmet snacks. "Most of the day, there will be an afternoon match, so we have a special tea set specially tailor made for that day's event." she said.

However, the metamorphosis of Dot Cod into a sports bar will be short-lived.

One of the managers points at large screen televisions lined up by the entrance. She says the sets will be positioned so all the patrons can watch, but as soon as the World Cup is over, the televisions will be removed.

World Cup fever has inspired some companies to find ingenious ways to market their products to those who are not enamored with football.

One marketing executive observes that many women are not enthusiastic about the sport.

Renne Ho-Pang is the marketing manager for Banyan Tree Resorts. The company last week introduced a vacation package for "World Cup widows" - the wives and girlfriends of avid football fans. "During this period, the men are going to dream football and talk about football and live football, it's going to be quite a disturbing time for the women," she said. "And so we have created special get away packages for wives of men who are really caught up in this worldwide phenomenon."

Ms. Ho-Pang says the company saw a slight drop in resort reservations for June, when the World Cup matches are played. "In the business side of it, we are looking at a slight drop of visitors from the Japan and Korean market because travelers from these two markets are likely to stay at home this season, "she said.

She says the packages for women are drawing in reservations and occupancy rates are picking up.

Style-conscious women who do want to get into the World Cup spirit can look to couture fashion for inspiration.

Luxury goods retailer Celine has kicked off a line of handbags, wallets and sports wear inspired by the World Cup tournament.

Karen Quek the communications manager for Celine Asia Pacific, describes one of the more popular purses. "If you notice, the bag has got a laced up front that really looks like the lace on a player's shoe or sneaker," she said. "And the colors that we've used, like red, black and white, are very symbolic of football."

Flip the purse over and it resembles a football. However, given that it is priced at about $500, mistaking it for a ball might be a bad idea.

Ms. Quek says the World Cup items are part of a limited edition, and as the line is only available for a few more weeks, sales have been brisk.

Items from the collection are certain to make an appearance at the World Cup matches. Ms. Quek says that, in addition to a number of Asian celebrities, one national ambassador to the World Cup is the proud owner of the leather shoulder bag. "Well in the words of our president and CEO, Jean Marc Loubier, this year, fashion will take over the World Cup," she said.

For fans who don't have the time to sit in bars or at home, there is another option; a Hong Kong commuter rail system is installing televisions in its busiest stations.

Commuters can watch highlights of the day's games, as well as interviews with football stars while waiting for their trains.