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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 9 March 2021

Being a good sport means sponsorship as well as invitations

Being a good sport means sponsorship as well as invitations.
Winner: sponsors can earn huge marketing rewards if they place their bets on sports such as rugby and golf. Jaime Puebla / The National
Winner: sponsors can earn huge marketing rewards if they place their bets on sports such as rugby and golf. Jaime Puebla / The National

It has been rather a sporting week. It began at the Dubai Sevens, an exhilarating event topped by an English victory, which rather made up for the country's humiliating defeat at the hands of Sepp Blatter and his cronies at FIFA. Even a Welshman, Giles Morgan, the avuncular group head of global sponsorship at HSBC, declared himself delighted at the result.

HSBC, along with Emirates Airline, is one of the main sponsors. The bank receives up to 10,000 sponsorship proposals every year, most of which are politely declined.

When Mr Morgan joined the bank about five years ago, he decided that it should focus on three main areas of sponsorship: first, cultural exchanges, which include art shows. "It is a simple metaphor," he says, "and they attract affluent, high-end people. They are both about retaining existing customers and acquiring new ones."

The second was to set out a framework, so it was not just about what to sponsor but how to sponsor. "For example, every effort has to involve both the youth and the community. Lots of people don't do that, but they should."

The final element was to focus mainly on golf and rugby. You might think there is nothing spectacular in this decision - after all, bankers are generally very keen on golf and rugby - but according to Mr Morgan, those sports have a good geographic fit with the bank's.

"For example, football hits everyone but is expensive and not defined. Formula One is hugely expensive. Rugby is 10 times cheaper and we get more ownership."

While he is an enthusiastic sports fan, he is also very focused about where the bank should put its money. For example, HSBC stopped its sponsorship of the World Matchplay, a prestigious event with a lot of history that used to be played every autumn at Wentworth in England. "We found that our bankers weren't using it," he says. "So we put the money instead into China."

For aspiring sports agents, Mr Morgan has a list of don'ts: this includes avoiding individuals and even teams, trying to avoid motor sports because of the anti-green connotations, and sticking instead to series and events. "Look at this," he said, gesturing expansively as we watched the crowd cheering the winning English try in the corner against Australia. "This is the biggest social event of the year in Dubai."

After rugby in Dubai, it was time to focus on golf in Abu Dhabi. At the magnificent Yas Links, sandwiched between the race track and the sea, I played a round with Kyle Phillips, the course architect, and the following day played in the final of the corporate masters, an annual event that takes place in a number of countries including Qatar, Thailand and Japan.

My play was so bad that next year I will probably be sponsored to do something else, but I did manage a par at the short 3 hole, playing in the company of Jean Van de Velde, the unfortunate Frenchman who came tantalisingly close to winning the Open championship at Carnoustie in 1999. He could have double bogeyed the hole and still won.

Instead, he took a seven, but his charm and good manners explain why some banks prefer golfers to footballers.

From there it was straight to the Arabian Sponsorship Forum at the Yas Hotel. I was corralling a panel of footballing heads, including Mohammed al Rumaithi, the president of the UAE's Football Association; Boutros Boutros, the senior vice president of corporate communications at Emirates Airlines; Richard Masters, the commercial director of the English Premier League; Dan Jones, a partner at Deloitte's sports division and Alan Rutherford, the chairman of the International Advertising Association.

The consensus was that sport had survived better than other industries in the recession, although sponsorship had initially been dented. "Football has proved itself more resilient than other sports," said Mr Jones.

Mr Boutros thinks football is getting expensive, but that sponsorship in the Gulf has not reached international standards. "Why would Visa come if it sees empty stadiums?" he asked.

Mr al Rumaithi thinks that Qatar winning the World Cup 2022 bid will change the "map of sports sponsorship in the region". Even so, private companies need to start sponsoring events and clubs in the region, and not just rely on public companies.

Danny Jordaan, who headed South Africa's successful hosting of this year's World Cup, was on hand with some advice for Qatar.

He said they should try to avoid hosting it during a worldwide recession - "the global economy must strengthen" - and that the investment in infrastructure does not give an immediate return but needs to be viewed as long-term. He thinks that to really make a difference an African team needed to win this year.

With this in mind, he thinks the Middle East has to find some decent players. However, he declares himself content with what South Africa achieved.

"We changed the image of a country and a continent," he said, without a trace of false modesty.

Whether you think that sport can really do this is a matter of personal opinion. Part of me can't help thinking back nostalgically to the days when footballers weren't spoilt and earned a wage that was realistic, rather than absurd.

I don't think they should travel on a bus, but nor should they all drive Bugattis. I was also concerned as to why my bank manager had not invited me to the Dubai Sevens.

"You should have a word with your local manager," said Mr Morgan. "Or earn more."

Published: December 10, 2010 04:00 AM


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