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Sat 9 Feb 2008 04:00 AM

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A good sport

Marketing director for sports business at Dubai Sports City Malcolm Thorpe is preparing for a busy year ahead as the venue gears up for operation.

Marketing director for sports business at Dubai Sports City Malcolm Thorpe is preparing for a busy year ahead as the venue gears up for operation.

Dubai Sports City (DSC), part of Dubailand, is set to open a spate of facilities this year, the first of which was its signature Ernie Els Design golf course, inaugurated last month by the US Open and British Open winner prior to the Dubai Desert Classic.

The Manchester United Soccer School is absolutely a grassroots soccer coaching opportunity from DSC.

As one of the first Dubailand projects to launch, this is a significant step for both DSC and the mammoth AED 235 billion (US $ 69 billion) Dubailand development. No longer are facilities just in the design or construction phase - operations are finally beginning.

As well as being an exciting time for the leisure industry, this also brings with it new challenges, a key one being how to successfully market these fantastic new venues.

The scope and scale of facilities under development means that building a brand for DSC and marketing it to the appropriate audiences in an effective way is of critical importance.

Importantly, DSC started the groundwork for its marketing more than two years ago with the appointment of former IMG executive Malcolm Thorpe, marketing director for sports business at DSC.

Thorpe joined global sports marketing pioneer IMG 13 years ago, marking the beginning of his career in what he refers to as "an unbelievably exciting industry".

A trained lawyer in his "previous life", Thorpe started in the legal department of IMG in London, UK, learning the sports market before moving into the business development side of the company and setting up the IMG office in India.

In 2005, a former contact from IMG recommended Thorpe apply for the sports marketing role at DSC, "and the rest, as they say, is history", he says.

Thorpe's role at DSC so far has been broad in scope, from looking at what activities can be run at DSC once the facilities are open to developing relationships with sports bodies across the world.

DSC has already established a number of relationships with the likes of the International Cricket Council, Butch Harmon School of Golf, David Lloyd Tennis Academy, International Hockey Federation (FIH) and Manchester United Football Club, through which it has been running the Manchester United Soccer School (MUSS) off-site at JESS, Arabian Ranches, Dubai, for the past three years.

Thorpe says: "We have developed relationships with a number of sports teams and sports businesses around the world with a view to having them come and use the facilities as and when they are ready, plus we have been involved with several football tournaments over the last couple of years, which has given us the opportunity to introduce DSC directly to the likes of Inter Milan and others.

"One of my roles has been managing the overall marketing of the DSC brand and the PR associated with the overall project - from our real estate businesses to our sports businesses to everything in between," continues Thorpe. "We've been planning how we're going to go about keeping the facilities busy, and what we're going to do to maximise the commercial return we can have from that."

"We've also used sports sponsorship opportunities around the Dubai Desert Classic Golf, Dubai Masters Football and Dubai Tennis Legends events. The people who we get to interact with around those events give us the opportunity to help spread the message about DSC, meaning well respected spokespeople get to be informed about what we're doing," he adds.

Marketing focus

With the first facility launches now underway, the marketing strategy is set to get more focused.
Thorpe explains: "The message behind the DSC brand is very complicated because we have so many different components - all the different stadiums, the various academies, and then all the elements that make up DSC, whether retail or residential. We also have more than 100 third party developers who have their own developments within DSC.

"We have an ongoing programme of putting the brand out there in association with our sub-brands to make sure that the overall message is well understood by all the different audiences that we have," he says.

"There are the children signing up for the MUSS, the people who want to play golf, the owners of the villas at the Victory Heights development around the golf course, as well as the global sports business industry, so we have to find the right platform in each case to take our brand and our message to all those different audiences.

"We do that through holding activities, sponsoring sports events and through straight brand advertising in appropriate publications," says Thorpe, adding that PR will play a significant part in the strategy.

The sporting academies and stadiums under construction at DSC give the impression of a centre for sporting excellence, somewhere perhaps not based in grassroots sports or suited to the recreational user. However, according to Thorpe this is not the case, providing another example of how important it is to convey the correct message to various users.

"The MUSS is absolutely a grassroots soccer coaching opportunity," he explains. "We have 800 kids who attend every week, from all backgrounds and nationalities."

Once the permanent facilities are ready later this year, the children will benefit from playing in a facility also used by league teams and professional teams.

Thorpe continues: "People will be able to come to DSC and do their own activities. There will be jogging trails around the Victory Heights residential community. We will have gyms that they can join. Even though the cricket academy is going to be, through our partnership with the ICC, the best cricket training/coaching facility anywhere in the world, we will still have the opportunity for people who play cricket and live in Dubai to use our facilities in and around the professional and elite teams.

"Clearly there needs to be a balance, clearly we need to be able to maintain the facilities and make sure they are not overused, but absolutely, we are open to making to making our facilities as widely used as possible. It's very much of the DSC ethos and mission is to be a place where all types of people can come and play sport," he says.

"Part of our mission is to help the development of sport in the UAE and in Dubai specifically. We can only do that by encouraging participation, by running events that people can come and watch and be enthused about, but also by providing opportunities for people to actually participate as well," explains Thorpe.

Through the development of sport - and of course, through effective sports marketing - Thorpe hopes that ultimately DSC will contribute to campaigns to improve the health agenda in Dubai.

"We would like to see ourselves as a pioneer of getting people in Dubai and the wider community in the UAE to be more aware of and active in sports, and that will help with the general health of the population."

About Dubai Sports CityDSC was launched in March 2004 by three Emirati businessmen with the support of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

Thorpe says: "DSC does what it says on the tin - it is a city built around sports. It will have a residential and working community living on the project, which has sport at the very core of everything that it touches.

"It's a place where you can watch sport at the stadium, learn sport at the academies, and a place where you can live sport by participating yourself.

"We'll have a retail mall, we'll have entertainment, we'll have restaurants, and we'll offer a series of events that will be there not just for the people living and working in DSC but for the wider community in Dubai and the region."

Thorpe continues: "There isn't anything quite on this scale elsewhere. There are a number of sports stadium build projects that have a little bit of residential or retail or something else, but there are none that have the scale that we have; I say that having met people from all sorts of different bodies and entities from all corners of the world and nobody yet has been able to say they know something bigger and better than this".

Facilities due to open this year will include: the Ernie Els Design Golf Course, which is managed by Troon Golf, cricket stadium, Manchester United Soccer School, World Hockey Academy, Rugby Academy, ICC Global Cricket Academy and a gymnasium, 50-metre swimming pool and athletics track.

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