By Alicia Buller
Boris Becker is stamping his name on Dubai's real estate landscape with a tower in Business Bay.
Alicia Buller meets the former world number one to find he has more aces up his sleeve.
It's a good feeling to know you can't be bought," said tennis champion Boris Becker, after rejecting a US$2m appearance offer in the early 1990s. All that was required of him was to turn up, play a match, and pick up the cheque - but he didn't much feel like playing tennis that week.
Everyone knows the name of Boris Becker, but nobody knows the street names of Business Bay.
How things change. Today the former world number one is a well-heeled principal owner at Volkl, a German racquet and clothing manufacturer. What's more, he tells Arabian Business that he's happy to monetise his name - literally - with the announcement of the Boris Becker Business Tower in Dubai's Business Bay district.
"It is common knowledge that this is not a charity project," he says of his endorsement partnership with German investment company, ACI Real Estate.
The US$150m Boris Becker Tower project is not, as it sounds, a single tower, but a set of three 19-storey commercial buildings - and the last piece in the firm's ‘Sports Trilogy' vision, following the announcement of Niki Lauda Twin Towers and the Michael Schumacher Business Avenue.
At the launch event for his self-named tower, Becker leans back in his chair like a man who has already accomplished a lot of what he wants to achieve.
"He wants to make money," the tennis star says, pointing at Robin Lohmann, managing director of ACI Real Estate. "And I want to make money."
"It's my first business tower. It is a proud moment to have a building named after you. In 10 years time, you're always going to remember the first one - I'm never going to remember the fifth one. It's a special day for me and for ACI as well. We are planning many things," he adds.
Amid stamping his ‘BB' logo on more towers, Becker says he hopes to find the time to build on his ‘international' profile. Forget Brand Beckham and their billions - and welcome, instead, to Brand Becker.
The tennis star - the youngest player ever to win the Wimbledon at 17 years old - still has a few more matches he wants to win on the global stage, only this time without using his famous "boom boom" serve.
"We are developing the Boris Becker brand and I've got my own logo, we've been working on building this in the last few years, in the crossover from my tennis career to the next one. I've started to build up my name in a quite a global way, with different projects," he says.
"The reason we're sitting here is because I'm still quite a famous figure. Not only in the region, but around the world. It takes a lot of work; you have to create a new self in a way. You have to work with believable, credible projects that can last."
Becker agreed to the ACI Real Estate deal for many reasons, he says. First, he's well acquainted with Dubai and its ‘favourable' climate, having played tennis professionally in the city regularly since the 1990s and witnessed, first-hand, its generous sports facilities and golf courses. As a fan of outdoor activities, Becker shares a natural affinity with Dubai.
The tennis star also cites his shared German roots with ACI as another reason he chose to seal the deal, along with the fact that the real estate firm is already planning around 12 buildings in the region.
I don’t have any property yet in the UAE, but I have been asked a good number of times.
His business associate, Lohmann, adds: "He's German [Becker], and I'm German. And, yes, his name adds value to the tower. I was always keen on how we could develop our buildings in a different way and market our buildings in a different way. Everyone knows the name of Boris Becker, but nobody knows the street names of Business Bay."
ACI boss Lohmann must have put a lot of cash on the table to lure Becker to Dubai - but he won't disclose exactly how much. Still, he's pulled off a grand feat in getting a tennis icon and two F1 legends, Michael Schumacher and Niki Lauda, to sign up to his ambitious ‘Trilogy Project'.
Schumacher arrived in Dubai just last month to promote the Michael Schumacher Business Avenue, a US$300m, 29-storey office tower in Business Bay. According to Zachary Nadler of New York-based All American Speakers, which manages some of Schumacher's engagements, it costs US$250,000 plus a private jet, for him just to show up.
Given the huge marketing campaign undertaken by ACI, it is likely the whole ‘Schumacher coming to Dubai project' alone cost well over US$1m.
"Robin Lohmann contacted us and we have had a very efficient partnership ever since. There was an idea and there was a will. We found very quickly the need for the project and so we managed to get together very quickly," Schumacher told Arabian Business.
"It's not the first time that I have been asked to put my name to a tower, but it's the first time I have accepted.
"In many directions I believe that Dubai offers a lot of potential. But on the other side, I think that if you are going to invest in something then you should know the market first."
Becker himself says that in all business there is an inherent risk, but with ACI he believes all the fundamentals are in place: location, investment and a good partner-fit. What the former tennis pro does admit, however, is that he has nothing to do with the building apart from the PR.
"Robin and I spoke about it and I like the building. My job is... I want to market it. I want to PR it, the reason I'm here is to promote.
"It would be wrong of me to say that I decided on the building, because he's the one who decided," says Becker, pointing towards Lohmann.
"The building has my logo and my signature colour - orange - so that was my real input," he adds, putting a swift, but honest, end to the idea that Becker is in it for a love of the creative process.
But would he take the ultimate gamble on Dubai's property market and invest his own millions?
The answer, as it turns out, is no. For now. "I don't have any property yet in the UAE, but I've been asked a number of times," he says with a smile.
Becker is famous for a lot of things - being a record-breaking tennis champion; a hero in his home country; his colourful personal life - however, having a sense of humour has yet to make it onto that particular list.
But when Lohmann is asked why he chose Becker as a celebrity brand ambassador for ACI, the former tennis pro jokingly pretends to dash out of the room.
And with a cheeky smile, Becker says that if he gets asked enough times to buy property in Dubai, then he might just give in.
As Becker himself once famously said, "Where do you go when you're the best in the world? What's next?" Well, it looks like you head to Dubai and join the celebrity-endorsed real estate rush.