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Thu 3 Apr 2008 04:00 AM

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The main event

More organisers are eyeing up the opportunities afforded by riding on the back of major events, but while the benefits are all too apparent, meeting bookers should be aware of the risks.

More organisers are eyeing up the opportunities afforded by riding on the back of major events, but while the benefits are all too apparent, meeting bookers should be aware of the risks.

The GCC sporting calendar is now as busy as Wembley on Cup Final day, with high-profile racing, motor racing, rugby and golf events crammed into the climate-friendly six month period between October and April.

Focus is being placed on motor sport in the region because businesses are very aware of its global impact and commercial opportunities.

Each event has a captive audience of discerning, top-earning execs, and the exposure doesn't stop at the edges of the race-track, fairway or touchline, with TV cameras ensuring the international events command international attention.

It's therefore no wonder that more corporate marketers are looking at ‘events within events' as an opportunity for general or specific branded initiatives.

For many organisers, booking your event so that it immediately precedes the major one is preferable, as it means delegates have a greater chance of attending and hearing your message during the build-up, and you are capitalising on the expectation factor; conversely, booking your meetings or event closer to the main event will mean you're more susceptible to cancellations and having your message lost in all the main event furore.

This year saw two new events in the run-up to the fifth Bahrain Grand Prix between April 4-6 - The Motor Sport Business Forum Middle East and the Medicine in Motor Sport seminar - which helped bridge the leisure-business ties.

The first Motor Sport Business Forum, a five-year agreement between the Bahrain International Circuit (BIC) and event organiser IM2 Events, took place in the trendy-looking RUF Automobile Sports car factory and attracted up to 500 delegates and 50 exhibitors.

Ron Dennis, chairman and CEO of McLaren Group, delivered a keynote address and other speakers included Vijay Mallya, chairman of UB Group, and Nick Fry, CEO, Honda Racing F1 team.

Exhibition stands ranged from 9m² (US $9,000 plus two delegate badges) to 36m² ($25,000 plus six badges) and delegate rates cost $1600 for one, $2900 for two or $4400 for three.

Founder Simon Berger explained the importance of broadening the forum's global reach.

"Motor sport provides a unique platform for businesses to build and leverage their products and as the sport continues to grow globally, reaching new markets, so do the opportunities for companies to get involved," he said.

"This is especially relevant to the Middle East where motor sport is gaining more attention and rapidly growing in popularity year on year. Focus is being placed on the sport in the region because businesses are very aware of its global impact and commercial opportunities.

BIC CEO Martin Whitaker said motor sport has taken "a quantum leap forward" in the region and now has an extremely strong commercial presence, with new developments and projects as well as thriving sponsorship and partnership initiatives.

"Staging the Motor Sport Business Forum here in the Middle East, particularly in Bahrain where the sport and the automotive industry have such a strong foot-hold, is a great opportunity to show businesses based in the region the global possibilities associated with the automotive industry.

The FIA Centre of Excellence Summit seminar was chaired by the Deputy President of the FIA Institute Professor Gerard Saillant and attracted more than 150 senior medical professionals globally.

The focus for the Summit was the medical advancements in Formula One and other motor sports and featured a selection of speakers from medically acclaimed institutions worldwide.

It grouped together doctors interested in all sorts of medical areas such as traumatology and physiology, and an FIA Chief Medical Officers' seminar took place the day before - effectively an event within three events, in the context of the Summit, the Forum and Grand Prix.

Jamal Al Sayad, spokesman for BIC says while attention is understandably focused on the Grand Prix, companies now have a range of conference facilities available off the track all year round - everything from the 8th floor rooftop of the Sakhir Tower, to the paddock lounges.

"Last year we had around 500 events and we're aiming for more this year," he said. "We can host events all year, obviously we stop the corporate driving days in June and July when it gets hot, but otherwise the facilities are open.

Its two-seater Caterhams, V8 Lumina and Hummer H2 are the most popular vehicles for incentive-seeking corporates. Half and full-day packages are available for all its packages, with prices varying depending on group size.

Next year Abu Dhabi arrives on the F1 circuit, providing Bahrain with some new competition. The airline sponsorship stakes will also be raised, with Etihad Airways recently signing a three-year sponsorship deal with the Ferrari F1 team, the current F1 world championship holders, and it's likely the off-track opportunities will likewise flourish.

The Dubai World Cup  is now a firm fixture on the business calendar and organisers have been actively maximising the corporate potential in recent years.

One popular innovation is the ‘Infield Pavilions', which border the rails between the second and final furlong and feature a private entrance and garden with shaded seating. Each unit features a 10x10m open front marquee with entrance signs showing the company name and logo.

Each air-conditioned unit, which is fully furnished with dining tables, food service areas and a private bar, costs AED140,000 ($38,000) and can hold up to 50 people. Another option is the Oasis Village - sold out this year - with each unit costing AED 50,000 ($14,000) for food and drinks for up to 40 people.

The Dubai Racing Club organises the ‘Party in the desert' each year in the run-up to the Dubai World Cup, laying on a feast of flavours for the visiting racing community and media, as well as ‘Breakfast with the Stars' at Nad Al Sheba.

Full swing

The GolfEx Dubai trade exhibition has established itself as a forum for the golf industry in the last three years, and is deliberately scheduled to tie in with the Dubai Desert Classic week, given that many managers and suppliers will be in Dubai for the tournament.

Neil Hamp-Adams, managing partner of Driving Force, which organisers GolfEx, said it attracted 300 delegates this year - slightly down on the 500 delegates that came to the event in 2007, but this was expected as it was a niche theme - and is aiming for 600 next year. Each year they find the Desert Classic week comes out top in the scheduling preferences.

"It's the only time of the year that all the world's golfing media are in Dubai and when Tiger is here it increases exponentially," he said.

"Having the top players means their managers, the tours, sponsors, promoters and other event organisers are also likely to be here."

He acknowledged that one of the draw-backs is that the local golfing community is flat-out with its own hospitality, launches and promotions so it is difficult for them to get time off to attend.

"The general noise that golf creates over this time has not been a deterrent for us as we are a business conference and any golf news and our news complement each other," he said.

Sometimes events needn't be major exhibitions or even corporate meetings, but ones that engender a feel-good factor with the public.

Dubai Rugby 7s sponsor Dubai Festival City arranged for the Fiji team to sign t-shirts and rugby balls as part of its family day activities in the run-up to last year's Sevens. It also hosted The Emirates Airlines Passing Challenge where guests had to pull together in an interactive game, involving passing rugby balls through inflatable hoops in order to score tries.

At the event, the Rugby Village was expanded to cope with increased numbers - more than 70,000 came through the gates over the three days. A‘Rugby Rock' concert always provides the finale for the 7s and ZU2, leading tribute band to the legendary Irish rock group U2, brought the curtain down at last year's event.

The Dubai International Jazz Festival also appealed to far more than just music lovers - it laid on 20 fully furnished hospitality tents, each one capable of hosting 40 people and costing $20,000.

New ball game

It wasn't that long ago that football stadia and corporates meant one thing - hospitality - but those days have now gone. Now event management companies offer the full gamut of opportunities and increasingly cater for a wide range of budgets.

UK-based Cavendish Hospitality, which has 25 yeas' experience, now has a broad sporting portfolio, providing everything from golf, soccer and cricket packages to more upmarket, niche events such as the Henley Regatta, polo and sailing.

Often it's not just about providing clients with tickets to the event, but providing something extra and memorable, be it meeting the players or horse trainers, or accessing the jockeys' weights room. Its ‘Day at the Races' isn't so much a package as a division - listing all the principal racing events.

Off-track appeal• The Bahrain International Circuit has 35 individual corporate lounges ($65,000 each) located on the top floor of the Main Grandstand. The lounges accommodate up to 24 people and can be adapted to suit client needs and wall to wall windows overlook the Start/Finish line and F1 pits.

• Formula One Paddock Club TM welcomes select VIPs for the "ultimate in world-class hospitality" with tickets available for the whole Grand Prix weekend, Friday to Sunday, or just the Sunday. Race day costs $3300 rising to $3880 for the weekend.

• The Private Pit Building Lounge is a private hospitality area, allowing a personal, branded entrance and decorated to quality and comfort with linen laid tables, floral arrangements and chairs for 10 guests.

• The Club Suite, designed for groups smaller than 120 guests, is designed for individuals and small groups to host events in a shared environment. Additional square metres can be purchased where space is available.

• The circuit cost $150 million to build five years ago - and it has already comfortably paid for itself when you factor in tourism revenues, corporate events and international exposure.

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