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Sun 5 Jun 2005 04:00 AM

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Marketing guru predicts sponsorship growth

An expert on sports marketing has predicted that the Middle East has massive opportunities to grow its sponsorship business.

An expert on sports marketing has predicted that the Middle East has massive opportunities to grow its sponsorship business. The claim came from Alun James, a sports marketing consultant who is currently helping with London’s bid to host the 2012 Olympic games.

James is managing director of Four Communications’ sports and sponsorship arm. He was in the Middle East last week for talks with potential clients. Four’s UAE operation, headed by David Baker, is run from Dubai Media City, while James is currently based in the UK.

James, whose meetings included one with Bahrain-based Gulf Air, currently a PR client of Four’s, told Campaign Middle East: “There are opportunities to look at what the role of sports events is in the region. Dubai has grown up very quickly and sports have been a part of establishing its reputation abroad. Phase two is about growing events, which are integral to the fabric of the place, rather than just passing through.”

He added that the decision of the International Cricket Council to move to Dubai from London is a ‘classic next phase activity’, while explaining that sports sponsorship gives clients much-needed third party endorsement.

“The value of sponsorship rather than advertising is that whereas advertising asserts something, sponsorship demonstrates a message — if you see something through third party endorsement it can be very powerful,” James said. “But people would be foolish to look only at Dubai. This is a region where there are a great deal of opportunities,” he added.

Donal Lilalea, boss of Promoseven Sports Marketing, the biggest player in the region for sporting sponsorship, agreed that there is still major potential to grow, but warned that it will be some time before it becomes big business.

“The potential is extremely big, providing you realise it is not going to happen overnight,” said Lilalea, whose portfolio includes the Emirates Rugby Sevens and the Asian Games in Doha. “In general, the sponsorship levels are relatively small.

Historically, sponsorship has not really been sold professionally in such a way that clients can see the true value of the event they are taking part in. Too many were motivated by relationships, and not enough on customer fulfilment,” he explained. “You have to realise you are making a high risk investment, but you are investing in the future.”

Sports sponsorship has become an increasingly significant part of the marketing mix within the region in recent months, not only in local events but in also pushing brands further afield.

Emirates Airline, for example, has been involved in a host of activities, from the naming rights to Arsenal’s new football stadium in the UK to the Breeders Cup horse races in the US and branding cricker umpire’s white coats. Qatar airways has followed the pattern, including putting its logo on the stadium roof at London football minnows Brentford — a site which is under the flight path for Heathrow Airport.

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