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Sun 26 Jun 2005 04:00 AM

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Glory days of sport sponsorship on the horizon

Emirates may be scaling back its sports sponsorship but that means opportunities for other companies, says Tim Addington

Glory days of sport sponsorship on the horizon|~|kilalea200.jpg|~|Kilalea… ‘The reality is, sports sponsorship should work alongside advertising’|~|News that Emirates is to scale back the amount of money it ploughs into sports sponsorship will no doubt have marketing executives from some of the world’s most high-profile sporting events and teams quaking in their boots.

The airline has spent millions of dollars to associate its brand with sports clubs and high profile events, but the company is now planning to divert some of its cash into more traditional forms of advertising.

At the same time, however, a marketing and advertising bonanza is predicted in Saudi Arabia after the national football team made the finals of the World Cup in Germany next year.

The day after the team qualified eight companies approached the Saudi Arabian Football Federation and submitted bids to sponsor the team and millions are expected to be spent on advertising and marketing in the run-up to the finals.

Sports sponsorship in the Middle East is an emerging industry. While Emirates has been the torchbearer in this field for many years, sports marketing experts believe that there is now room for other companies to get in on the act and predict the glory days for sports sponsorship in the region are just around the corner.

“It is now beginning to grow and grow properly,” said Donal Kilalea, CEO and executive vice president at Promoseven Sports Marketing. “In the past there were too many unstructured approaches to sports marketing.

There wasn’t a professional approach and trying to explain to clients that sponsorship is part of the marketing mix was difficult,” he added.

“In the past, sponsorship was left to the very last thing. Ad agencies fought against it because they saw it as taking away from their ad budgets. The reality is, sports sponsorship should work alongside advertising.”

Alun James, managing director at Four Communications’ sports and sponsorship arm and consultant to the 2012 London Olympic bid agrees.

“The Middle East is a good place to be doing sports sponsorship at the moment,” he said. “But is doesn’t work in isolation. It has to be part of a total communications platform.

There are a lot more sports marketing opportunities than there were 10 years ago. The Asian Games in Doha next year has acted as a spur to this growth.”

While the deep pockets of Emirates and Dubai Duty Free has enabled them to effectively own major sporting events such at the Rugby 7s, World Cup horse race, and Dubai Tennis Open, there are more opportunities for smaller “second tier” companies to attach their names to sport.

Kilalea claims that the success of the Dubai Rugby 7s tournament is due in no small part to Emirates’ sponsorship. Attendance at last year’s Rugby 7s was up by 15% on the previous year and it is expected to rise by the same amount this year.

“There is an awareness of the power of sport and what it can achieve for a product,” said Kilalea. “It is non-political, aspirational and enjoyable. There are some key smaller events that have come up which are very reasonable for a company to get involved with,” he said.

“Sport is also a great way of boosting tourism. Dubai has realised this and Qatar is catching up. The more big events there are, the more people will travel to the country and the more the sponsors will benefit,” said Kilalea.

Advertisers in the Middle East are slowly recognising the benefit sports sponsorship can have in brand building and increasing sales. Emirates’ slow step back from the market, which it has dominated in the region for many years, signals a green light for other players who want to get involved in the game.||**||

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