IT solutions provider Huawei is sponsoring Wellington Phoenix to build business networks and to give back to the community, reports Bill Bennett.

Last month, multi-national telecommunications company Huawei renewed its sponsorship of Wellington Phoenix. It is the largest sponsorship deal in the history of New Zealand football.

Though the deal is vital for the club, it is also significant for Huawei. So significant that Huawei global Board Director Li Jin'ge made the official announcement when Prime Minister John Key met with the company in Beijing as part of his latest China visit.

Huawei funded the All Whites when the team played China in 2012, and the match marked 40 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

A year later Huawei began its relationship with Wellington Phoenix.

Advertisement

Huawei director of public affairs Andrew Bowater says it's part of the company's strategy "of localising" by forming meaningful partnerships.

"We see football as important. It's not just about our signs at the ground or our logo on shirts. It is a key part of becoming involved in New Zealand.

"We can sell our stuff anywhere in the world. We're in 170 countries and many of our relationships with countries are now more important than just doing business. Football sponsorship is a form of diplomacy."

Bowater says football is a global game and the ideal sport for Huawei to sponsor. "That makes it possible to do things that might not otherwise be possible. The Phoenix already play an annual tournament in Hong Kong. Later this year the team will play two games in Beijing. It helps that Wellington and Beijing are sister cities."

Football is popular in China and President Xi Jinping has set down a goal of China hosting the football World Cup and he wants his nation to win it.

Huawei's involvement with Phoenix runs deep into the wider community. The company helped set up the club's training academy, which is running community-based programmes in New Zealand. The first year had 65 spots for local school children.

Football is popular in China and President Xi Jinping has set down a goal of China hosting the football World Cup and he wants his nation to win it.
Football is popular in China and President Xi Jinping has set down a goal of China hosting the football World Cup and he wants his nation to win it.

Wellington Phoenix now plans to extend the Academy's reach by attracting young players from Asia. They will come to New Zealand and learn sporting skills along with improving their knowledge of the English language.

Bowater says: "We take a pride in the club growing and expanding. We have helped bring key players on board like New Zealand-born Kosta Barbarouses and the Brazilian Gui Finkler."

Perhaps the most important aspect of the Wellington Phoenix sponsorship deal is that it has worked as a global template for Huawei. Bowater says: "The company had never sponsored sporting teams before we did it in New Zealand. We've shown the rest of Huawei how to use sporting diplomacy."

It would be easy to underestimate how important that lesson was. On Huawei's sponsorship web page Wellington Phoenix now sits alongside some of the most glamorous clubs in the world including Arsenal, Paris Saint-Germain and Atletico Madrid. Lionel Messi is a Huawei global brand ambassador. These clubs put the brand name in front of millions of people each week.

Wellington Phoenix has a reach well beyond the city limits. The team plays in the Australasian A-League and schedules matches in Auckland. Bowater says there are plans to extend this further.

Playing away games in Australia means the company's brand gets broad exposure in both countries. In Beijing John Key acknowledged the importance of Huawei providing the means for the club to take part in the A-League tournament.

We can sell our stuff anywhere in the world. We're in 170 countries and many of our relationships with countries are now more important than just doing business. Football sponsorship is a form of diplomacy.

SHARE THIS QUOTE:

Key says "they're a much loved team and they provide an important link for New Zealand football to be part of the Australasian circuit ... they have an enormous fan base, not just in Wellington but around New Zealand.

"Competing at sport is never a cheap thing. Ultimately you have to buy players, maintain the facilities, you have to spend on the costs associated with running the team ... that wouldn't be possible without naming sponsors like Huawei."

Bowater says the recognition has paid off. "Although Huawei is only the third mobile device brand behind Apple and Samsung in New Zealand, it has a fast-growing market share. When it comes to market share New Zealand is its number one country in the region and close to the top-performing country outside of China."

Huawei's involvement with Wellington Phoenix has been so successful that other Chinese companies have taken note. Last year Sinopec, the Chinese oil company, had its own sponsorship deal with the club.

One initiative Huawei has been working on with Wellington Phoenix is the Huawei Business FC.

Bowater says the idea is to build a broader business network around the club. He describes it as like a chamber of commerce with football where people can come together on match day and network. He says the first event was a lunch attended by 1200 people.

The arrival of the business network coincides with Huawei's local push into the enterprise technology market.

Beyond football, Huawei is building other local partnerships. The highest profile relationship is the partnership with GridAKL. Bowater says Huawei provides the Auckland innovation precinct with a high-tech platform to ensure GridAKL has a cutting edge campus. "It's a smart building equipped with sensors."

Next, Huawei plans to use GridAKL to introduce local suppliers to its global supply chain. He says: "We have a programme in Australia with 200 local suppliers who work with us. There are app developers and other software companies among others. We have three or four local suppliers in New Zealand but are looking for more. Our plan is to bring our procurement team to the Grid to meet more of these companies."

Bowater says Huawei has many partnerships with New Zealand universities. It is building a smart campus at Lincoln with an all-wireless data network. This gives students and researchers the flexibility to work from anywhere on site.