What do billiard player Cha Yu-ram, North Korean striker Jong Tae-se and gymnast Son Yeon-jae have in common? They all belong to the sports marketing company IB Sports, which recently became the sole agency handling broadcast rights for the Korean Women's Golf Tour. IB Sports also signed management contracts with Chiba Lotte Marines first baseman Kim Tae-kyun and Tokyo Yakult Swallows pitcher Lim Chang-yong. The company has reached out to the baseball pitch after signing on speed skater Lee Kang-seok and female golfer Park In-bee.
Sports agencies and sports marketing firms, which began to mushroom around 2000, have grown over the years and now determine the very direction of the sports world. The Korean sports marketing business is worth around W550 billion (US$1=W1,149), including TV broadcast rights, advertisements and sponsorships. And competition is fierce among players seeking a bigger slice of the market.
IB Sports, whose stable of athletes used to include figure skating champion Kim Yu-na, is an affiliate of Inter Burgo and now rivals its parent company in terms of revenues. It makes W20 billion a year and has 40 staff, the largest in Korea.
Lee Hee-jin (45), the company president, used to be in charge of purchasing programs at KBS, but he left the broadcaster and in 2005 bought the rights to broadcast U.S. Major League Baseball games to establish sports cable channel Xports. IB Sports handles overall marketing for the IAAF World Championships in Athletics to be held in Daegu in August next year. The agency suffered one setback, when it lost Kim Yu-na, who accounted for one-sixth of its revenues, but its existing businesses are still lucrative.
Lee Sung-hwan (45) is the head of Sema Sports Marketing, which manages pro golfer Pak Se-ri. He used to be an actor on MBC but became her agent when he met Pak while she was filming a commercial and eventually opened his own company. Pro golfers Shin Ji-yai and Choi Na-yeon and gymnast Shin Soo-ji are also managed by Sema, which is gaining market recognition by managing various unique events. Established in 2002, Sema made headlines for paying Tiger Woods US$1.8 million to play in a match it hosted in Korea in 2004. Sema also invited Maria Sharapova, Venus Williams and Roger Federer to play at the Hyundai Card Super Match.
All That Sports, which was created by Kim Yu-na and her mother in April of this year, has already signed management contracts with figure skater Kwak Min-jung and female soccer player Ji So-yun.
FC Network specializes in football, with marketing rights on behalf of the Korean Football Association. It was set up in 2000 by former staff of Diamond Ad run by the Hyundai Group and the company has formed strong ties with the Korean soccer community, whose growing size has boosted business.