x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

HSBC hails its pairing with Abu Dhabi golf

Simon Cooper, the chief executive of HSBC in the MENA region, sees big potential for golf in the UAE.

Simon Cooper would be the first to admit that he's no world-class golfer.

But the chief executive of HSBC in the MENA region sees big potential to exploit the sport in his home market of the UAE as it emerges as a golfing hub to rival other regions of the world.

The prize money of US$2.7 million (Dh9.9m) offered at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, which ends tomorrow, will help the Middle East maintain its position of having the highest average prize money per professional golf event in the world by far.

This year, as HSBC joined as title sponsor, the prize fund for the event increased by $500,000. The bank declined to disclose its contribution but says that it is "significant", as demonstrated by the prominence of its branding across the course.

"For us it's about business," said Mr Cooper. "Clearly it's a big tournament so it's a big investment. It's about investing in a marketing proposition. From a branding perspective it shows how committed we are to Abu Dhabi, the UAE and the region."

The bank signed a five-year sponsorship deal with the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) last September for the tournament, launched in 2006.

"For emerging markets, the Middle East is growing in importance in terms of the golf tour," said Mr Cooper. "It's certainly a region that is hugely important for us. We view golf very much as a sport which is about ethics and integrity ,and that's something that we value very highly in terms of our brand and franchise. It represents the way we want to be perceived by our clients. It dovetails into what interests our clients as well."

Abu Dhabi's aim is that the global company, which also endorses golf tournaments in Shanghai and Singapore, will help the emirate in its ambitions to become a golfing destination.

"It is in many ways a coming of age for the championship and for Abu Dhabi's ambitions as a credible golfing destination," ADTA said at the announcement of the deal.

With the launch of the Saadiyat Beach and Yas Links golf courses last year, Abu Dhabi now has three championship courses. The sport fits Abu Dhabi's aim to attract "high-end" tourists.

"Golf tourism was earmarked at an early stage as a core market segment for Abu Dhabi," said Lawrence Franklin, the director of strategy and policy at the ADTA.

Dubai is already well-positioned as a destination with the Dubai World Championship, one of the richest tournaments in the world, with prize money of $7.5m. In the UAE, plans for a number of courses have been put on hold or cancelled because of the economic climate. But the figures also show that the UAE's courses generate more than triple the revenues of courses in Spain and more than seven times those in England.

Data from KPMG showaverage prize money in the Middle East to be €2.1m (Dh10.4m), compared with €1.1m in the US and €450,000 in Europe. The limited number of golfing events in the region partly explains why purses are so high.

"The distribution of prize money not only represents the level of popularity the game has in various regions, but also provides a clear indication of sponsors' appetite to promote themselves in different geographies," analysts at KPMG said.

The banking and financial services sector is the biggest sponsor of golf events globally.

KPMG says golf's traditional values, the players and spectators, who tend to have high disposable incomes and be opinion leaders, and the global reach of the sport are the main factors that make golf appealing to corporate sponsors.

Globally, larger tours were generally able to maintain prize money despite the global financial crisis because most sponsorships were based on three to five-year deals struck before the downturn.

"On the other hand, considering the impact of the crisis on the banking and automotive industries, it is fair to say that many tours have witnessed a reduction in sponsorships from these sources in 2010 and even the cancellation of some events," said KPMG.

Mr Cooper remains confident that golf will help Abu Dhabi attract more tourists.

"A number of people who will come and witness this tournament here, many of them know Abu Dhabi already, but some of them don't," said Mr Cooper. "They are going to see an investment Abu Dhabi and the UAE is making in terms of tourism and leisure, sport, and they're going to be attracted to come back. Talking to a number of the golfers, a lot of them have come to this tournament a few days or a week early because they actually want to spend time and relax in the UAE, and that's a tremendous accolade for what the UAE has to offer."

rbundhun@thenational.ae