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S T R O P S E H IC N .. 7 3 ..NICHE SPORTS..p



oaillier des Rois, Roi des Joailliers – Jeweller of Kings, the King of Jewellers. King Edward VII’s description of Cartier is a fitting description of everything the brand encapsulates. The world-renowned French jeweller is a brand synonymous with elegance and luxury. Since its formation in 1847, Cartier has produced products that send a message about social status and standing. It is a brand for the chic and sophisticated, with trinkets and timepieces that only the elite can afford. As such, King Edward VII honoured the company with the Royal warrant of supplier to the Royal Court of England in 1904, with similar warrants following

The high rollers

Why are high-end sponsors keen to link up with sports that are given minimal mainstream exposure? SIMON PEACH finds out... from a plethora of kingdoms from Spain to Siam. However, while Cartier has been associated with royalty for more than a century, the brand has also enjoyed a lengthy association with the sport of kings, polo. “Cartier is synonymous with polo,” said Arnaud Bamberger, managing director of Cartier. “We’ve been sponsoring the sport for 25 years and when people think of polo they think of Cartier, especially in the UK. “It is the sport of kings and Edward VII aptly described Cartier as the king of jewellers and jewellers to the King, so it is a natural fit. The sponsorship is highly appropriate to us.” In fact, the sport of polo seems apposite for numerous other blue-chip companies looking for exposure at the higher end of the social grade.

Harcourt Developments, Al Habtoor, Meyado, Jack Wills, Ganjam and BMG all sponsor top polo evemts, like Cartier, at the world-renowned Guards Polo Club, nestled deep in the 14,000-acre Windsor Great Park in England. In addition to the sponsors, the Club attracts a glut of prestigious official partners such as Evitavonni, Westbury, Bose, Jackson-Rowe, Audi, Keith Prowse, Pololine, Ivan the Terrible Vodka, Hildon and Kinnarps. Then there are the highprofile suppliers such as Pommery, Justerini, La Martina and Centaur. “Polo sponsors are normally your luxury goods,” explained Charles Stisted, chief executive of Guards Polo Club. “They are companies with very focused targets or focused clientele. At the moment you have everything from luxury goods companies, such as Cartier, through to private wealth firms.”


Exposure Polo is awash with companies selling lavish products aimed at the highest echelons of the social pyramid. However, like several other similarly niche sports, polo has had a negligible impact on the mainstream despite its ability to pull in prestigious sponsors. So with media coverage nearly nonexistent and small crowds attending events, what attracts companies to sponsor such sports? “Well, it allows brands to align themselves with the upper quartile of banking and the upper quartile of lifestyle,” admitted Stisted. “Ultimately polo is not a mass sport and it doesn’t benefit from large distribution rights through television. “Saying that, companies sponsor polo because it attracts certain types of people and ultimately it’s all about people meeting people. You want people to meet in the right arena and it’s very good for the groups of companies that are involved.” Stisted has been in the position of chief executive at the Club for the past 10 years and in that time has overseen its expansion to become Europe’s leading polo club. Since he first walked through the Club’s doors as event manager in 1989 it has changed dramatically, but sponsorship is still key. Stisted described Cartier as the “global leader” in terms of polo sponsorship, with the jeweller heavily involved in the expansion of the sport into new areas in recent times, including acting as title sponsor for the Cartier International Dubai Polo Challenge event. The company is also the key sponsor of the Cartier International Day, the world’s largest polo event. In a few weeks’ time on Saturday, July 25, the “world’s greatest spectator polo day” will return to the Guards Club for the 26th time. It was around the time of the inaugural International Day that Cartier realised the true potential of polo for the company, spotting the possibilities that have brought so many others to the sport.

“Over 25 years ago in Palm Beach Polo Club, Cartier sponsored a team featuring the famous Gracida brothers and we started to realise the potential of the game for us,” said Bamberger. “We realised that the same type of clientele frequented the sport of polo as frequented our boutiques, so it was at this time that we started to speak with Guards Polo Club to sponsor the International Day in Windsor. “The dynamism, speed and sheer thrill of the game, alongside the exclusivity of the people who play and watch it, make it an attractive sport for Cartier to be associated with.” Champagne Bamberger’s views are reinforced by sponsors of other niche sports that attract wealthy spectators and competitors. Pol Roger is one of the smaller, family-owned champagne houses, vying with the likes of Bollinger and Roederer on the shelves. It was the well-documented tipple of Sir Winston Churchill, so much so that the champagne house has named its prestigious cuvée in his honour. Sales director James Simpson described Pol Roger as a top-of-themarket niche brand, meant for the “champagne aficionado”. When it comes to sponsorships, niche sports such as real tennis and rackets are on the menu. “We don’t have the funds to be a big player in sports such as sailing, motor racing or cricket,” said Simpson. “However, we can be a big player in rackets and real tennis. We can be the champagne of rackets and real tennis without, frankly, spending a huge amount of money. “If there is ever an event, our partners will tend to use Pol Roger to present champagne at receptions. Wherever they need champagne, we’ll be the target supplier.” Pol Roger is involved across its chosen sports at all levels, from Celebrities and royalty rub shoulders at the Cartier International Day at the Guards Polo Club in Windsor Great Park

a role with the Real Tennis World Championship Challenge to supporting the Petworth House Tennis Court’s 50th anniversary celebrations. Yet the support comes despite the fact that, across the world, only around 1,000 people play rackets and a maximum of 5,000 play real tennis – a tiny percentage of the global population. For many companies, sponsoring such a small sport would seem crazy, but not for the likes of Pol Roger. Simpson believes those who play the sports are what he calls “proper champagne drinkers”, thus allowing the firm to pinpoint its target market with incredible ease and accuracy. Furthermore it helps the company in its overall ambition to attract a new hoard of Pol Roger drinkers, notably current students at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. Since Pol Roger set up a UK-based agency in 1990, the company has had a strong presence in varsity competitions between the two historic academic institutions. The champagne house has sponsored the Oxford/Cambridge blind tasting competition for the vast majority of that time and has since moved into niche varsity sports such as rackets, real tennis and Eton fives. “It’s nice to support these sports and with the varsity side it helped us appeal to a new audience,” said Simpson. “We thought ‘gosh, people who knew Churchill are getting quite old’, so the challenge has been to try and engage a new, younger generation. “The target market really is the Oxford and Cambridge types and we’ve now extended that blind tasting competition up to Edinburgh St Andrews University and are talking to one or two other universities to do much the same. “So it’s a bit of both. It’s a bit of getting youngsters involved and a bit of supporting some proper sports. “Our sponsorship is not about chucking huge amounts of branding

around. It is usually about supporting events, going along, presenting a few bottles and opening a few of them. “You can get a lot of value from doing that in real tennis and rackets, whilst you’d get lost if you did that with polo or some of the big mass-market-type sports. “The other reason we do it is because I enjoy playing real tennis,” he added with a chuckle. “Frankly most sponsorships work because someone plays it or someone is enthusiastic about it, so you tend to know the people involved.” Goodwill His sentiments are echoed by James Walton, chief executive of The Tennis & Rackets Association (T&RA) governing body. “The kinds of companies that sponsor the sport are basically those that belong to people who play the sport,” he said. “They are very high-end products, both real tennis and rackets. Rackets is only played in 14 major public schools and, as far as I can tell, when sponsorship became significant it was always coming from companies associated with the players. “For example, Lacoste belongs to John Prenn in the UK, who was the world rackets champion so he sponsored the game for 30 years. “Neptune Investment Management, which is now a fairly big investment house, belongs to Robin Geffen, who has played rackets and tennis right from when he was at school.” According to Walton, most companies sponsor these sports for “goodwill”, with Pol Roger one of the only ones that might expect something in return from the sponsorship. However, while Walton may highlight the sponsorship deals as merely being a good gesture, it becomes apparent again that the ability to be specific in targeting a company’s target audience is very important. “It’s very personal,” he said. “We don’t often see newcomers. We tend

to see people drawn from the same catchments. “I think it is relatively particular. For example, Pol Roger also does the wine tasting matches and they probably see Oxbridge (the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge) as its market, while Neptune recruits most of its staff from Oxbridge. “The others are primarily people who love the game and are happy to help pay for its future. “I wouldn’t say it is an overtly commercial return, I don’t think any of the sponsors would be naive enough to say that they expected that. They like to see their name in little communities doing their bit.” According to Walton, the sponsorship also allows people who head up big firms and have little free time to feel that they are involved in helping the sports. The sports certainly show a lot of respect and gratitude in return as they consult the players and sponsors before making any major decisions. “We would want to hear what their views are,” said Walton. “Some of these people have been around the game for 30 years and they’ve got lots of experience. I imagine you might find the same with polo. “I’d say that we are the most similar out of all these little niche games because other ‘nichey’ school and Oxbridge games, notably rowing, are so big now by comparison. “Rowing can command global audiences. At our World Championships in Australia, broadcast live on the web, there were a few hundred watching.” Rowing In stark contrast and to further emphasise Walton’s point, this year’s Boat Race was watched by 5.4 million viewers in the UK alone, while the number of countries taking live television coverage or highlights has grown by more than 80% in the past three years. Furthermore, 250,000 spectators lined the River Thames to watch the Race in April, making it one of London’s top

social occasions. However, while niche sports such as polo, real tennis and rackets languish in terms of mainstream coverage, how has the Boat Race grown from a traditional varsity rivalry to become a British institution that attracts global exposure? “The Race has a unique sporting heritage dating back more than 180 years – pre-dating the FA Cup final by 43 years – as well as a global appeal that makes it a special event to both broadcast and sponsor,” said John Collard, chief executive officer of Sport Impact, which came on board as marketing and media advisor to the organisers of the Boat Race in 2007. “The result is always in doubt thanks to the demands of the Tideway course and weather conditions on the day. “There is only one chance for either crew to win the single event after seven months of training and the Race is full of personal drama, joy and despair that makes for great TV and guaranteed levels of brand exposure over more than just Race day itself.” The promise of such publicity led Sport Impact to secure the Boat Race’s first ever title sponsor earlier this year, as business processing company Xchanging expanded from its role as presenting sponsor. Collard said the three-year deal allowed the company to deliver “even greater value to the sponsor” and an enhanced profile. Plans are already underway to add two more official partners to those already in place, with options being explored to invest further in providing spectators with more entertainment and facilities during the day. However, without those sponsorship deals, further growth would be stunted or even threatened. “It has a special place in the sporting calendar and almost everyone has an allegiance to one University or the other, even if they didn’t attend Oxford or Cambridge and have no obvious

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attachment,” said Collard. “It’s also true, though, that the Race is expensive to stage and, unlike most sporting events, it does not benefit from income from spectators. “Sponsorship is therefore vital in covering costs and maintaining the profile.” Backing While the Boat Race may attract the eyes of the world once a year as well as envious glances from other niche sports, financial pressures are always a concern. Despite the fact that big-name luxury sponsors may give niche sports the look of lavish occasions, the sports themselves would suffer enormously without the commercial backing. Walton explained that in real tennis and rackets, 40% of the money spent by the T&RA comes from sponsors. “Without sponsorship, something major would have to give, which could include not paying professionals any prize money or not having a central office organisation,” he said. Polo too is heavily reliant on its backing, with Stisted admitting that sponsorship plays a “fundamental” and “important” role in the running of the sport. However, for the time being, the continued support of blue chip companies is providing crucial assistance in the development of the sports. There is a new rackets court in the pipeline at Tunbridge School, adding to a new venue built at Radley College two years ago. The T&RA are also looking at the possibility of opening a court at the University of Surrey, while the Guards Polo Club is installing two new grounds. The Polo Club is expanding overseas and diversifying its interests into Prince Charles helps to tread down divots commercial, during a break in play at the Cartier International Day in Windsor Great Park polo lifestyle, retail, property development and merchandise as a way of boosting the coffers and spreading the financial risk. These niche sports may therefore represent an often overlooked and tiny part of the sports industry, with low spectator numbers and almost non-existent media coverage making a negligible impact on the mainstream. However, these sports are also aware of their place in the market and have adjusted their models accordingly to keep ticking over. With big-name sponsors on board and involved in the sports, they are also likely to preserve their status for a while yet.

Niche sports' sponsorship (The Sport Briefing, issue 6, June 2010)  

A look at traditionally niche sports such as polo and real tennis, which have had a negligible impact on the mainstream so far, but are stil...

Niche sports' sponsorship (The Sport Briefing, issue 6, June 2010)  

A look at traditionally niche sports such as polo and real tennis, which have had a negligible impact on the mainstream so far, but are stil...