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Sun 18 Jan 2009 04:00 AM

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Sporting legends

The region's sporting tournaments face unique challenges and considerable pressure to increase tourism. Organisers of some major events explain what makes them a success.

The region's sporting tournaments face unique challenges and considerable pressure to increase tourism. Organisers of some major events explain what makes them a success.

What event do you organise?

Connerton:I organise the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon. The first international edition of the event was in 2000 with very few international participants, but now almost 20% of the participants come from abroad.

Using dedicated media partners has definitely been our most effective way of marketing our events.

Richardson:In November 2009, Jumeirah Golf Estates (JGE) will stage the Dubai World Championship - the world's richest golf tournament - on the Greg Norman-designed Earth course. The tournament will feature 60 top golfers; the sheer calibre of the talent and the US $10 million prize fund makes this one of the most important sporting events to ever be held in the Middle East.

Cartin:Delwood's flagship event was born in 2005 when it created The Legends "Rock" Dubai. The fourth edition of the tournament was held at Dubai Tennis Stadium at The Aviation Club in November 2008 and featured eight legendary players including Stefan Edberg.

Kilalea:Promoseven recently held the largest ever Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens at a brand new site, The Sevens, where we will also host the Rugby World Cup Sevens in March.

What do you think is the key to the success of your event?

Connerton:Everyone can take part - whether in the marathon, the 10km or the 3km Fun Run, it's an event open to all.

Cartin:The tournament is the only one of its kind in the region, offering spectators the opportunity to see champion tennis players continue to exercise their competitive instincts in tournament formats.

Kilalea:Over its 39 years, the Sevens has attracted all sectors of the population because it promises incredibly good sport, fun, and family fun as well - it's not just about going to cheer a rugby team.

What is the biggest cost in organising your event?

Connerton:It's the prize money and the costs associated with flying in 50 to 60 invited elite athletes and accommodating them and their managers/coaches.

Kilalea:The single highest cost must be the grandstands, because we erect temporary stands to British standards.

Richardson:As part of our agreement with The European Tour, we have committed $171 million over five years, with an option to extend for a further five. What is unique about organising an event in the Middle East?

Kilalea:There are always last-minute issues when you're running an event of this size that is a temporary event as well, but nowhere else in the world could a stadium have only been completed two days before the tournament [as happened with the Sevens this year]. I think it shows the can-do attitude that exists here. In 11 months that ground went from being sand dunes to six rugby fields, a 4000 seat stadium and a players' clubhouse.

Richardson:Close relationships with key authorities such as police  and traffic are crucial to the success of events just as they are around the world. I was recently at the Dubai Sevens and was genuinely impressed by the organisation; getting in and out of the venue is an incredible challenge and this was managed effectively.

Dubai is certainly developing the infrastructure that will be capable of staging the Olympic Games at some stage in the future.

What is the most challenging aspect of organising your event?

Connerton:As the Marathon is a one-day event happening every year, it's a challenge getting everyone associated to work to the event's timetable and not to the timetable of each and every sponsor or supplier. You try to overcome this by engaging all aspects very early.

Cartin:It takes a lot of co-ordination and patience to ensure that everything runs smoothly and on time. We work with a number of companies on various events; having existing relationships, combined with thorough planning at the beginning, helps to ease the pain.

Richardson:It's the first time a golf course has been developed to the deadline of a world-class tournament; we know players will be the harshest critics.

How many visitors attended the last edition of your event and where did they come from?

Connerton:Out of a total of around 10,000 participants, about 2000 came from abroad. Actual visitor numbers is hard to gauge but most participants would come with family.

Last year we also had groups coming from the US, Hong Kong and Germany, among others, as part of their travel plan.

Kilalea:We had 50,000 people on the Friday and on the Saturday and 17,000 on Thursday. We anticipate that 30% would be international visitors. And just over 10% were in the under-12s age group.

Richardson:In the first year the aim is to attract 40,000 people over the four days of the tournament, including golfers in Dubai; industry professionals, corporate bodies, international tourists and people who have never been to a golf tournament before such as youngsters or families. How do you staff the event?

Kilalea:We have 20 permanent staff plus 100 volunteers, all the liaison officers, a lot of volunteers from Event Management Development Institute (EMDI), Jumeirah College and the English College and a full security team as well. About 3000 people work onsite during the Sevens.

Connerton:We fly in up to 30 key officials from abroad and have 500 to 600 volunteers/marshals working on the day, plus Dubai Police and Dubai medical services on duty throughout the event.

Richardson:We will have a fully-dedicated events team who are purely focused on the successful delivery of this event in partnership with The European Tour. The tournament will also draw on and utilise local volunteers.

Cartin:We have a core team of staff and when we hold events such as The Legends we take on additional staff, who have worked with us on projects before, as more than 200 people are needed to co-ordinate at the stadium.

How do you market the event?

Connerton:The marketing for the next event starts the day after the last. Unlike all other events it is a participation event open for all and the promotion is to attract more participants as much as it is for the event itself. This is done through the internet, website, international magazines and the local and regional media.

Cartin:We like to market our events at least one month to six weeks prior to the start date so that we can create a good momentum. Using dedicated media partners has been our most effective way to market our events; it gives us the opportunity to build long-lasting relationships with local media and a strong foundation on which to build our media planning.

Kilalea:The marketing will start in June or July of every year. We use BBC World and promote ourselves at other Sevens events as well.

Richardson:We kicked things off in earnest with a hugely successful global media launch of The Race to Dubai at Turnberry in Scotland, part of Leisurecorp's portfolio. The strategy has been very much PR-focused initially to raise awareness of The Race to Dubai. Can you give an example of when something didn't go exactly according to plan?

Connerton:In 2002 the route for the marathon crossed over to Deira. Unfortunately, our officials placing the drink stations informed us at 2am on the morning of the race that the Garhoud Bridge was up for maintenance and was scheduled to stay up until after the runners were expected to pass! After a few phone calls to the right people the bridge came down and the race continued as planned.

What impact does your event have on encouraging people to get involved with the sport?

Cartin:The Kids' Day event is run each year leading up to the tournament; it's a fun way to get children involved in tennis as they are given the opportunity to get on court with the legends. Plus, we offer The Pro-Am for adults to test their skills against the Legends.

Connerton:There's been a significant increase in numbers each year. We work closely with the UAE Athletic Federation in promoting athletics and health and fitness to the community.

Richardson:I believe that the ‘new' stars like Camilo Villegas, Sergio Garcia and Anthony Kim, who have already decided to compete at JGE in November, are a breath of fresh air that will assist greatly in spreading the golf message to future generations.

Kilalea:The Rugby Sevens locally is made up of more than 156 teams including vets, under-19s and women. If you put a team into the local series, there's a very good chance you can play in the three-day event. I think the new Sevens facility is the home for rugby now, and that will help to incentivise people to go out and have a run and try. Do you think that holding sports events has the potential to increase tourism to the region?

Connerton:It was the staging of major sporting events in Dubai that kick started the promotion of the city and the tourism board actively supported those sporting events and used them as a major promotional tool to put Dubai on the map.

Our event has definitely added to tourist numbers. This month, Haile Gebrselassie will again attempt to break his own world-record and take the Dubai Holding-sponsored US$1 million bonus for achieving that goal.

Richardson:I'm a big believer in the value that golf brings to a city or destination. It's a massive driver of high-value tourism and a great course can really put you on the map. The exposure gained from a great tournament such as the Dubai World Championship is priceless.

Kilalea:We don't know what the economic benefits are of our Sevens at this moment but if you look at 30% of the 50,000 spectators coming from outside the region that's a big economic boost to that weekend. Certainly there have been studies over the years showing the benefits from increased airline traffic, increased hospitality traffic, increased F&B etc. It was reported that the Monte Carlo Grand Prix generates $50 million in one weekend for the state of Monaco.

What advances need to be made in order for the region to be capable of hosting an Olympic Games?

Kilalea:The Olympics would have to agree that the times would have to change because there's no way they could endure summer here. The second issue is investment in facilities and the third thing is to guarantee attendances.

Doha put in a bid and they had a very good analysis so I've been told. Both Dubai and Abu Dhabi have the wherewithal to actually do it and they have the space to build facilities, but it will take some time.

Richardson:World-class infrastructure is the biggest necessity  and of course the support and backing from the Government, local community and the authorities. Dubai is certainly developing the infrastructure that will be capable of staging the Olympics Games at some stage in the future.

About the experts

Peter Connerton, event director, Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon

After growing up in Dublin, Ireland, Peter Connerton ran the family business importing clothing and supplying the UK and Ireland chain stores. He moved to Dubai in 1994 and set up the Dubai Marathon Office in 1999.

Donal Kilalea, CEO, Promoseven Sports Marketing

Having joined Fortune Promoseven in 1983 in Bahrain, Donal Kilalea went on to set up offices around the region, including in Dubai. His portfolio includes the Dubai Rugby Sevens and the World Corporate Golf Challenge.

Aaron Richardson, senior media relations manager, Leisurecorp

Previously a sports journalist, Aaron Richardson was appointed senior media relations manager for Nakheel's Dubai World sister company Leisurecorp last August. The company's portfolio consists of Turnberry in Scotland, Pearl Valley Golf Estates in  South Africa, and Jumeirah Golf Estates in Dubai.

Bianca Cartin, marketing and PR manager, Delwood Consultancy Services FZ-LLC

As marketing and PR manager for Delwood, Bianca Cartin is responsible for offering expertise in event management and marketing for the company's cultural and sporting events. She joined having previously worked as PR, sales and marketing manager for the Hard Rock Café Dubai.

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