Vietnam’s sports and esports scene is rapidly growing, with a passionate fan base, and significant government and private sector support. From football and volleyball to martial arts and esports, the industry is poised for significant development.
This week, AST provides an overview of the Vietnamese sports and esports ecosystem, including the opportunities and challenges facing the industry. By understanding the unique characteristics of this exciting market, businesses and investors can make informed decisions about how best to engage with this “shining star” in Asia.
Vietnam’s population is one of the youngest in the region, with over half of the population under 25. Smartphone penetration is high at more than 50%, and high-speed internet coverage continues to grow. While many countries struggled in the pandemic, Vietnam achieved a whopping 8% growth in 2022, with a highly respectable 6.3% forecast in 2023 (World Bank). In terms of foreign investment, Vietnam attracted USD 27.72 billion in investments across sectors in 2022 (Reuters).
(Women’s Sepak Takraw final – Vietnam vs Thailand at SEA Games 2022. Photo: AFP)
Sports in Vietnam, and how your sneakers were probably made there.
Vietnam is a global manufacturing powerhouse for football merchandise and sportswear. Adidas employs 200,000 workers, producing 43% of all its footwear across suppliers in Vietnam. Nike employs an estimated 484,000 workers producing 51 percent of its footwear, while Puma produces 32 percent of its total production volume in Vietnam (Hanoi Times, 2022). Decathlon also has 5 stores across Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh. This has had a significant impact on the country’s sports ecosystem – by providing employment opportunities, contributing to economic growth, and promoting sports participation and fitness.
Sports have been a deep-rooted part of Vietnamese culture. The government has been promoting sports among its people and building up more stadiums and training facilities to support this movement. Football dominates the ecosystem, with a vast majority of the population following European leagues and teams more than the local 2- tier “V League” (Men’s national league in Vietnam) and the Women’s National League. This is evidenced by the value of media rights – Vietnamese cable subscription service K+ paid US$13 million per year to broadcast the Premier League from 2016 to 2019, while the V.League was worth around US$100k per year! The value has since increased drastically, with FPT currently paying US$2.5M for V.League rights. International football remains in pole position, recently proven with the national broadcaster picking up broadcast rights to the 2022 World Cup for “no less than US$12 million.”
However for national team games across sports, fans turn out in record numbers to support their country. The 2022 SEA Games in Vietnam were one of the most attended in history.
(Ecstatic fans in Hanoi after Vietnam beat Thailand to claim the SEA Games 2022 men’s football gold medal. Photo: VN Express)
Football isn’t everything though, there is huge passion for Running, Badminton and Martial Arts. The country also boasts of its own leagues in Futsal, Basketball & Volleyball. The VBA – Vietnam Professional Basketball League, formed in 2016, has 12 Pro Men’s teams competing at the top level, with 8 Women’s teams and 16 additional U20 teams.
Esports in Vietnam – from cyber cafes to the mainstream.
Despite long-held public prejudice and sparse regulations, the esports industry is starting to receive the attention it needs to thrive, especially with the inclusion of esports as a medal event in the 31st Southeast Asian Games and the Vietnamese teams winning four gold and three silver medals.
Vietnam now has the highest percentage of adult gamers in the world, at 85% in 2020 (Statista). Esports in Vietnam presents a flourishing market with access to an extraordinary number of dedicated and enthusiastic consumers – generating annual revenues of US$507 million, with the aim to reach US$ 1 billion in the next 5 years (VnExpress, 2023).
To revolutionize the Vietnamese esports ecosystem, Vietnam Recreational & Electronic Sport Association (VIRESA) is focussing on creating official esports regulations and competition rules, as well as rules for national esports tournament systems and training. Esports are gradually creating a sophisticated digital entertainment ecosystem that can draw long-term investors and generate billions of Vietnamese Dong (VND) – opening doors for content producers, media outlets, and event organizers to join the Vietnamese market.
Le Quang Duy’s inspirational journey at the 2020 League of Legends (LoL) World Championship captured the attention of many Vietnamese and viewers around the world in October 2020, when he helped his team get to their first LoL Worlds Finals with an aggressive and captivating playstyle.
As the industry generates significant revenue, it has started to attract major investments from both domestic and foreign investors. In 2018, VNG Corporation, one of Vietnam’s leading technology companies, acquired a controlling stake in Gamota, a local mobile game publisher. The deal was worth approximately US$50 million and aimed to strengthen VNG’s position in the mobile gaming market. In 2020, Veloce Esports, a UK-based esports organization, acquired Team Flash, a Vietnamese esports team. During the summer of 2021, NRG.ASIA announced the acquisition of GAM Esports, a dominant force in Vietnam’s top League of Legends competition.
Vietnamese Sports and Esports Fans
While feverishly supporting international teams is extremely popular among people of all ages, Vietnamese also have a relatively high sports participation rate: 53% of men and 37% of women think sport is very important to them. 44% play sports regularly, while 19% only participate occasionally (Statista 2021). The most popular sport in urban areas is football (78%), followed by badminton (34%). At least 33% of people play football occasionally, and 38% have watched a live game in a stadium (Q&Me, 2021). In 2018, 77 percent of Vietnamese people watched at least one World Cup game (FIFA). Local sports leagues are followed less than the Premier League and UEFA Champions League (the gap is higher than in other Asian nations).
In the absence of integrated fan engagement from international sports I.Ps, unauthorized fan organizations are particularly active in organizing watch parties, giveaways, and competitions on social media. There are 60 Manchester United FC fan groups on Facebook alone, with the most boasting between 5,000 and 650,000 followers. Up to 1,000 fans will gather at mass-watching events hosted by the official fan groups to watch the games together.
(Photo: VnExpress, Tuoitrenews)
An Indochina Research survey revealed that 84% of the fans in terms of English Premier League (EPL) viewers are male. Additionally, 80% of EPL viewers are under the age of 45, compared to 68% of the general urban public. The higher median income is 18.8 million VND for EPL viewers as compared to 17.7 million VND for the general urban population.
According to VIRESA, there were roughly 40 million domestic gamers, with a whopping 18 million esports participants in 2020 in Vietnam. With a high smartphone penetration rate, combined with fast and affordable internet services; Vietnam isn’t just ideal for game developers and distributors, but also as a competitive powerhouse in the esports arena.
The future is bright.
In conclusion, the Vietnamese sports and esports ecosystem has showcased remarkable growth, presenting myriad opportunities for both local and international stakeholders. This burgeoning market features a unique blend of passion, talent, and youthful energy, driven by a tech-savvy population that is embracing the digital revolution. At Asia Sports Tech, we believe that Vietnam’s vibrant landscape is poised to solidify its position as a leading player in the Asian sports and esports arena.
Innovative business models, strategic partnerships, and targeted investment in infrastructure and training will be the key drivers behind the sustained growth of this dynamic ecosystem. With the support of forward-thinking government policies and a commitment to nurturing local talent, Vietnam is set to make waves on the global stage in both traditional sports and esports. The country’s pursuit of excellence and its dedication to fostering a strong sports culture will undoubtedly inspire generations to come.
As a leading consulting firm in sports, esports, health, and well-being, we have been actively contributing our expertise to help navigate this exciting landscape. With the government’s support, a growing economy, and a talented and passionate population, Vietnam has the potential to become a major player in the global sports and esports industry, and AST is excited to be a part of this exciting journey.
If you want to learn more about the industry and get involved in supporting its growth, connect with AST.