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Erke basks in DPRK's success

IN 2000, Erke was an unknown brand attempting to establish a name in China's sporting apparel market.

Nearly a decade later, the apparel company has achieved widespread brand recognition in China with help from an unlikely ally -- North Korea.

The company was set for another boost after North Korea qualified on Wednesday for the 2010 World Cup, with audiences around the world watching as players decked out in red Erke-emblazoned jerseys jumped in joy.

It was North Korea's first World Cup qualification since 1966 when it surprisingly beat Italy to reach the quarterfinals. For the sponsor company it means further rewards carrying on from the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, where the North Korean national team took home six medals -- elevating Erke's brand in China.

In 2006, when Erke became the first apparel brand to sponsor all of one country's teams for an Olympics, North Korea was a unique choice.

"Through demonstrations of their capabilities in the games and the medals they've won, it has indeed raised the visibility of our brand in the China market," Jenny Yeo, a spokeswoman for the Fujian-based China Hongxing Sports, Erke's parent company, said.

Since sponsorship for North Korean teams began, Hongxing's domestic presence has grown to nearly 3,800 retail outlets across China from about 100 in 2000.

And with the World Cup qualification, Erke is confident its investment in an overseas market dominated by the likes of Adidas and Nike will pay off.

"Football is one of the areas which we feel have a lot of potential for development and we hope to be able to raise our brand visibility ... in major events, such as the World Cup," Yeo said.

In 2008, the company expanded its scope of international sponsorships to include the International Table Tennis Federation Pro Tour and its tournaments in Qatar, Austria, Germany and France.


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