ASTRO makes a small but significant branding blunder

Rugby is an increasingly popular sport just about everywhere. According to a recent Mastercard report, the overall global growth in the sport is estimated at 15% per year.

The main rugby event is the rugby world cup which is held every four years. The first rugby world cup was held in 1987 and attracted a global TV audience of 300 million. Twenty years later, the 2007 Rugby world cup attracted a global audience of 4.2 BILLION TV viewers, and the Rugby world cup is now the most watched sport after the Football world cup and the Olympics.

The six nations rugby tournament is the second most important international rugby tournament after the rugby world cup. It is held annually between England, Ireland, Scotland, Italy, France and Wales and was watched by over 69 million TV viewers in Europe in 2011.

The six nations, only a few games live on TV in Malaysia

According to Wikipedia, in Malaysia there are sixteen rugby unions, associations and councils affiliated to the Malaysian Rugby Union and more than 300 clubs and 600 schools and universities nationwide that teach the game.

There are 41,050 registered rugby players in Malaysia (I don’t know who they are registered with), and the country is currently ranked 57th in the world.

There are also countless other rugby players and fans who are not registered but have an interest in the game, such as expatriates from rugby playing countries.

When the commonwealth games were held in Malaysia in 1998, it was estimated that over 50,000 people watched the Rugby Sevens part of the tournament live and 20,000 were at the ground to watch the final, won by New Zealand.

It wouldn’t be too far fetched to say there are probably 250,000 to 500,000 people connected to or involved in some way with rugby in Malaysia.

So it has caused somewhat of a storm within the rugby fraternity in Malaysia to discover that ASTRO, the only satellite TV provider in the country has decided to show only a small percentage of this top class global event live on TV.

One corporate subscriber that spends almost RM100,000 per annum subscribing to Astro was stunned to learn of Astro’s poorly thought out decision not to show the games live and said, “I am shock (sic) to learn of this decision. I don’t get it, why would you not show this popular competition live? We know Astro can do it so why don’t they?”

Another domestic subscriber summed the situation up thus, “I’m sick and tired of the crap they show on Astro and then when something I really want to watch isn’t on live, it really makes me angry and I wish I could change provider.”

An audience of 500,000 is relatively small (although it does equate to about 25% of total Astro subscribers) but this is a lucrative segment with influence and with related content, advertisers would have a captive audience. Such an event should be on the radar of destinations, financial institutions, hotels, automotive companies, schools and universities, real estate agents and more.

One potential local advertiser would be Mastercard which supports rugby on a global scale. Credit cards are sold in many ways in Malaysia, including a sort of hijacking of prospects at petrol stations.

Personally, I would be more likely to be influenced by a Mastercard advertisement linked to rugby than I am by the current tactics.

Astro spends a lot of money acquiring customers but spends little on retaining customers. It may be that because Astro is a monopoly, it doesn’t think it has to listen to its subscribers and it may have a point.

But with a new provider due to launch in 2Q2012, the growing penetration of IPTV providers such as Telekom Malaysia and the growing trend for downloading programmes from the Internet, now may not be the best time to alienate a small but wealthy segment.

What do you guys think?