They call football “the people’s game” and “the beautiful game” and nowhere is this more evident than here in Southeast Asia.

The region lives and breathes football and while the English Premier League (EPL) dominates all and everything, there is one tournament, played amongst ASEAN countries, that similarly inspires fans from all walks of life.

The AFF Football Championship – a biennial tournament played since 1996 – is watched by millions who are drawn to the event as they are able to support country not club.

Boasting huge support, it has been a dream platform for Suzuki Motor Corporation to get behind and market their products, not least because the competing teams include key markets such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Suzuki became title sponsor in 2008 and have not looked back.

“The AFF Suzuki Cup has flourished since we took over as title sponsor in 2008,” said Kinji Saito, Managing Officer, Suzuki Motor Corporation.

“We aim to offer “Excitement” to customers, which is the core value of our global brand slogan “Way of Life!”. We believe football provides people with enthusiasm and fervour, which are the components of “Excitement”. We hope that we can share our brand value with as many people as possible by sponsoring this exciting tournament.”

And the fact that the Group Stages for the 2016 AFF Suzuki Cup were played in Myanmar and the Philippines for the first time, and a Qualification Round staged in Cambodia in October allowed Suzuki to enjoy working in new and important countries.

Thailand won the event for a record fifth time last year, scoring dozens of goals with artistry and ease. The off-the-field statistics and numbers were equally as impressive.

According to data analysis firm Nielsen, the total television audience was 113 million.

The official Facebook page had 1.3 million “likes” when the tournament came to an end on December 17, and also boasted 93 million impressions.

The Final was played over two-legs between Indonesia and Thailand, in Bogor first then Bangkok, and saw nearly 80,000 spectators attend.

In fact, well over half a million fans turned out to watch all the games.

Indonesia’s success was a boon for Suzuki, as the Garuda had been struggling for years and were the surprise achievers with their sublime performances throughout the tournament.

They excelled and captured the imagination of their fans, helping to make the AFF Suzuki Cup one of the top-rated sports programmes in Indonesia in 2016.

Myanmar’s impressive run – they reached the semi-finals for the first time ever – was also an extremely pleasing sight for Suzuki, who in November unveiled their brand new Suzuki Ciaz – the first time they had produced and launched an authentic sedan in Myanmar.

Indeed, Suzuki’s sponsorship was able to reach multiple touchpoints in the region.

All 18 matches featured Fan Zones with branded booths and interactive games. The zones were a hive of activity in the hours leading up to kick off.

An event promotional TVC also aired in six markets: Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. A star player from each country appeared in the TVCs, which were put online and geo-targeted. The TVCs were also shown on the giant screens in the stadiums.

Furthermore, pitches and stadiums were comprehensively branded with A Boards and Car Displays to ensure Suzuki fully benefitted from the live television coverage of all matches.

For the second-leg of the semi-final at the My Dinh Stadium in Hanoi between Vietnam and Indonesia, a ‘Live Site’ was set-up in Ho Chi Minh City which gave fans opportunities to immerse themselves in the fervor of the tournament.

This allowed the country’s major city in the South to truly get involved in the match and saw over 5,000 fans attend and watch the match on a giant screen.

In the lead-up to the tournament, a Trophy Tour also took place to help build excitement before the first match kicked off on November 19.

The Tour visited Yangon, Jakarta, Ho Chi Minh City and Manila and saw star players, celebrities, and VIPs attend and mingle with the hundreds of fans who turned out to support the soon to be played tournament.

“The AFF Suzuki Cup Trophy Tour is the perfect way to raise the curtains on this year’s tournament,” said Mr. Takayuki Sugiyama, Managing Director of Suzuki (Myanmar) Motor Company Limited.

“We are proud that Yangon launched The Trophy Tour on its four-city swing of the region. This is a wonderful way to help celebrate this popular tournament in this region and show the passion that the Suzuki Motor Corporation has for the AFF Suzuki Cup.”

And in the digital space, it was the event’s OneCheer campaign that proved to be an overwhelming success.

The main thrust of the execution was a web-based app experience hosted on the AFF Suzuki Cup website. Fans could view sample videos of their country’s best-known football cheer and upload an audio or an audiovisual file of themselves performing a cheer.

To complete the ultimate fan experience, the winning entrant with the most creative submission was rewarded with an invaluable opportunity to attend the AFF Suzuki Cup Final and he was even invited behind the scenes to witness the heart of the action.

The analytics were outstanding with 49 million impressions, 336,960 new Facebook “likes” and a reach of 24.5 million.

Lagardère Sports, the long-standing promoter of the AFF Suzuki Cup, was rewarded for this initiative by winning the Gold Award in the “Best Idea – Sporting Marketing” category at Marketing Magazine’s annual MARKies Awards.

The success of this was the result of mass fan participation – a constant for what is Southeast Asia’s biggest sporting event and a powerful magnet for sponsors like Suzuki.