TEAM Malaysia (TM) describes itself as a platform to amplify and create widespread national support for Malaysian athletes competing in both national and international games, and inadvertently raise the standard of sports in the country.
Telekom Malaysia conceptualised TM to mobilise, organise and energise the supporters of Malaysian athletes, with pride, passion and love for sports essence. It has evolved as a success model to emulate.
Telekom Malaysia General Manager (Group Brand and Communication) Farah Diba Ghani told Doha Stadium Plus in an exclusive interview that Qatar, where lack of fans has been a real worry at almost all venues, can take a leaf out of TM in building a spectator base for its national teams.
Which year did the idea of forming Team Malaysia strike you and how did you execute the plan?
Back in 2010, we, at Telekom Malaysia (TM), were looking to expand our involvement in sports beyond football. We wanted to have long-term purpose and be unique enough to make a difference in sports.
Clearly, sponsoring another event didn’t seem to be the answer. With the London Olympics approaching in 2012, we felt we should’ve worked with the Malaysian National Sports Council (MNSC) and Olympic Council of Malaysia (to support our national athletes.
Then came the idea of rallying fans to support athletes competing in major events. To engage supporters using social media as a platform seemed to be the best idea since Facebook take-up is high in Malaysia.
What was the initial response from fans?
Naturally, we had to educate people on what the movement is, why it exists and how it can make a real difference in raising an athlete’s performance. After all, there’s no sports without fans.
Our supporter strength grew to 400,000 in 16 months from April, 2011, the day we had launched Team Malaysia.
How did it grow over the years?
We promoted TM in campaigns around selected sports events, like the South East Asian Games, Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and, of course, Olympics. We also do extensive road shows and ground events such as the Team Malaysia Fan Run.
It’s ceremonial with key officials like the chef de mission and sports minister. We invite legendary athletes and public figures. We get about 12,000 runners and 20,000 visitors at each event.
What’s your model?
We’ve the TM jersey which we sell to generate funds. And our branding, thanks to the athletes and MNSC, has firmly positioned TM strongly in Malaysia.
How did you succeed in convincing fans?
We appeal to their sense of nationalistic pride and patriotism. More than 54 per cent of Malaysians are active sports fans so I focused on a holistic 360 Degree Communication plan targeting different age groups. Squash and badminton garner support from all Malaysians while football is very Malay-skewed, so the mediums of communication were targeted accordingly.
What were the offers you made to fans to join your initiative?
We give away plenty of free tickets for sporting events. Some of them are entitlements from another sponsorship so it makes perfect sense. But most importantly, TM’s social media platforms — Facebook, Twitter and Instagram — provide fans with news and exclusive pictures of local sports events in quick time. It has put us ahead of other news portals. Through our relationship with the MNSC, we’ve access to athletes and often interview them on a more personal level. The fans seem to like these personalised social media posts and we get much engagement from them.
Which was the first event where you tried this concept?
It was the South East Asian Games in Jakarta in December, 2011.
Group bookings would help fans get discounts on air and event tickets, hotels etc. What’re the other attractions you’ve offered Malaysian fans?
Mostly, the support is largely at our ground events and the biggest numbers are at those held locally. However, we do run contests for TM customers and take winners to overseas events.
We partner broadcasters and TM supporters do get some airtime. It’s also a pull factor for our young fans but, in summary, we make it generally overall fun and quite easy for them. Transport and food allowance are provided at most events.
As you’re aware, Qatar’s population is very small. Consequently, the talent pool for national team selection itself is small, let alone fan following. How do you think we can develop a committed group of fans under these circumstances?
I believe ‘small’ can also be an angle. Countries with relatively-small population and low fan engagement also use social media to engage the public. Taking the angle of national pride, they activate the ‘fans PR’ only at specific events because their sports followers are smaller in numbers.
I would suggest that you rally support for a very specific cause and not try to have a permanent group of following.
A highly-engaged and passionate fan movement which comes together strong when needed is more effective than a mediocre large group. We also started with a dedicated group of 1,000 fans whom we could call on when needed. Over time, this number has grown to about 20,000 registered fans whom we can mobilise. But it has taken us six years.
There’s great passion for sports, at least for selected disciplines, among Qataris. They’ve the resources (money) too, but there’re no travelling fans. How do you think we can tap these favourable factors and develop an ‘army’ of Qatari fans?
Often they need to be organised into a group. Much like fan clubs. It’s no fun going to overseas events when we travel alone or with a few friends. But when there’s a leader organising the supporters to come together, it becomes exciting.
I believe all sports fans prefer to play, watch and support in groups. Of course, the organiser has got to make it fun and exciting, with a touch of uniqueness and just the right amount of appeal for Qataris to come together to support the national athlete.
Alone, I’m only one, but together, we’re a movement of strong and patriotic supporters. It makes a real difference inside a stadium, both to athlete as well as fans. Once they feel it in their heart at the first event, rallying them next time will be easier. Finally, I’ll suggest you pick your event well. It has to be something meaningful to most Qataris.
What’re the salient features of the concept you’ve implemented in Malaysia?
Pride and passion are key to making this work. We’ve managed to maintain TM as a ‘non-profit’ movement, solely dedicated towards supporting our national sports heroes. This was enforced for the first few years of TM because we know how the public will be turned off if they felt it was just another marketing gimmick.
It’s also important to have the right partners to make the movement official. The uniformed look through the jersey shows the unity and strength at all events.