BMX hero set to strike commercial gold
When Steven Wong clinched gold for Hong Kong in the men's BMX final of the East Asian Games yesterday, it wasn't just the spectators who were thrilled.
The marketing industry suddenly found themselves with their own coveted prize - a young, hip sports star they could use to sell everything from sodas to running shoes.
Many brands have already approached the 21-year-old to offer sponsorship and product endorsement deals.
Banks and insurance companies have also expressed an interest in recruiting Wong as an adviser for their internal sports programmes.
With more sponsors, Wong will have access to better training and more events, giving him a chance to climb to a level of sports celebrity that only a handful in the city have reached before.
'Hong Kong previously did not have any young and stylish sports icons. He will be one,' said Daniel Chan Yan-nang, director of Action House International, a local sports marketing consultant. 'Teenagers will see him as an idol.'
Part of that appeal lies in the sport itself. BMX racing is young, emerging into the mainstream largely in the 1980s. Most of the sport's followers are in North America, but Wong's win will boost its profile in Hong Kong.
He couldn't have asked for a better platform: Wong was the flag bearer for the Hong Kong team in the opening ceremony last night.
'To marketers, visibility is essential in choosing a brand spokesperson,' Chan said.
He said Wong was interested in getting sponsors for future competitions in Europe and North America. Only when he did well in these races would he have a shot at the 2012 London Olympics, Chan said.
With a Chinese father and a Belgian mother, Wong can barely speak Cantonese - save to introduce himself.
He was born in Belgium and grew up there, but in his youth visited Hong Kong to see family.
He has been spending more time in the city lately.
An athlete does not have to have a Hong Kong passport to represent the city in the Games.
Wong is likely to spend even more time in the city since the construction of the BMX Park at Kwai Chung - built with a grant of HK$20 million from the Hong Kong Jockey Club - will allow him more opportunities to train.
Wong grew up a soccer fan and BMX did not enter his life until he turned 12, when his father gave him a second-hand bicycle.
Before capturing yesterday's gold, he was already a four-time Asian BMX champion.
Wong is expected to shine for years to come as BMX riders can still be in top form when they reach 30.
Chinese University marketing professor Leo Sin Yat-ming said Wong was on the path to becoming a rising star.
'People will definitely remember him after making headlines today,' he said.
Asked whether Wong would face a language barrier, Sin said: 'The fact that he does not speak Chinese might make him look even more stylish.'
The professor said Wong would be the ideal person to promote 'young' products, such as soft drinks, gym shoes and sportx equipment.
He said Wong also interested marketers because he was cheaper to sponsor than Olympic gold-winning windsurfer Lee Lai-shan and Asian champion cyclist Wong Kam-po.
'Some might want to invest in him before he gets famous,' Sin said.