The UAE leads the region as the country most identified with sport and outdoor activities, according to a report by the brand consultancy FutureBrand. However, it still has a long way to go to break into global public consciousness as a destination for sport, the company said.
The consultancy, part of the McCann WorldGroup team that won the marketing contract for the London 2012 Olympics, ranked the UAE top in the Middle East and North Africa, but only 60th in the world out of 102 countries ranked in its Country Brand Index from last year. "There are a lot of sporting events that happen in Dubai, but our ranking shows that not many people [outside the region] would associate sporting events to the UAE," said Jae Hwang, the executive director of FutureBrand in the Middle East.
"So, it's about trying to showcase it, or pull up a communications piece, or packaging the events in a way that says we're a viable destination for sports." Part of the reason for the UAE's low world ranking was its relatively recent arrival on the global sports scene, said William Shintani, the executive director and head of operations of FutureBrand in Dubai. Another reason was that the UAE had not yet hosted an event as big as the Olympic Games or the FIFA World Cup, which create instant international brand awareness for a country.
After Beijing hosted the Olympic Games in 2008, China experienced a 22 per cent increase in brand awareness and a 71 per cent increase in terms of familiarity globally, FutureBrand data showed. In some cases, this benefit can come even before the event begins. South Africa, which is set to host the FIFA World Cup in June, jumped from 59th to 33rd place in the FutureBrand index between 2008 and last year.
FutureBrand has done some work for Dubai Sports City and the Dubai World Championship golf tournament, also known as Race to Dubai, and its executives agreed the city had the tourism infrastructure already in place to become a major global sporting hub. "Dubai has a head start in developing the infrastructure that makes this a preferred destination," Mr Hwang said. "Right now, today, there are enough hospitality, tourism and retail products."
Adding a stronger sporting infrastructure on top of that could be a major driver for economic growth, he said. Sport also has a political role to play in telling the story of the GCC to the world, he said. FutureBrand is working for Qatar's bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, which, if it wins, would be the biggest sporting event yet to be hosted in the Gulf. "What is really central to Qatar's drive is the desire to present the new, modern Arab to the rest of the world, using the games as a political showcase," Mr Hwang said.
However, Gulf countries and cities should proceed into the global landscape of hosting major sporting events with caution, noted Tim Hill, the head of new business at FutureBrand. "There is a health warning for the UAE," he said. "While it is trying to attract big-ticket items, like the Formula One, they've got to be very careful because money isn't the issue here in the UAE. "If you look at the Olympics, the Olympics movement is about being democratic for everyone. If the grassroots level on sport is not properly built in the UAE region, and it only becomes a beautiful showcase for Formula One and huge-ticket items, you are going to get less international traction, because it will become the Monaco of the region."