x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Sunset+Vine races to win a bigger piece of sports action

The broadcaster responsible for global coverage of last week's Dubai World Cup is keen to explore more opportunities in the region. The firm's chairman reveals the scale of his ambitions.

"We see a lot of potential in the UAE with the tourism business," says Jeff Foulser, the chairman of Sunset+Vine. Satish Kumar / The National
"We see a lot of potential in the UAE with the tourism business," says Jeff Foulser, the chairman of Sunset+Vine. Satish Kumar / The National

Jeff Foulser is chairman of Sunset+Vine, one of the biggest independent sports broadcasting businesses in the world. Based in the United Kingdom, he was in Dubai last week overseeing preparations for the Dubai World Cup, the world's richest horse race, run annually at the Meydan course but broadcast around the world by S+V. He talked about the potential for sport in the region, and about the challenges of providing global coverage of the big race.

The Dubai World Cup is one of the biggest events in the Emirates calendar. What role does S+V play?

We've been the host broadcasters for the event for the past decade. We're responsible for producing the broadcast feed of the event and distributing this to a worldwide audience. Just over the past four years the event has reached an estimated global audience of more than a billion people. That doesn't mean a billion people are watching it. It's a TV industry way of measuring potential audience. Last year we put out 180 hours of live feed to 135 countries, 40 per cent up on the previous year. This year the audience is calculated to reach 285 million households on every continent. It's a very big and very successful event for us.

It sounds like a big logistical challenge. What's the role of the Dubai media in all this?

It certainly requires a big effort. We have 80 people working on it, with 17 tonnes of equipment. All of that has to be flown in. Dubai media does the broadcasting of the race from the moment the gates open to the finishing line, but all the rest is down to us: helicopter and tracking cameras, interviews, all the rest that goes with the big day out at the Meydan.

Have you encountered any particular challenges in broadcasting from Dubai?

Broadcasting horse racing has its own challenges. It's not like football, where it's all concentrated in 90 minutes, nor cricket, where you can devote four days to coverage. With horse racing it's hours of build-up, then all over in two minutes. You have to sell that properly to the advertisers. But our experience here [in Dubai] has been pretty easy really. We don't have permanent staff based out here yet, and I guess having that kind of infrastructure might throw up other issues. But it's been fine for us. I think as long as you have a sponsor through the business you're involved in, as we have Dubai Racing Club, then any problems can be smoothed over by them.

So after your success at the World Cup, are you considering expanding further in the region?

We would certainly like to. We see opportunities here in multi-sport events like the Asian Games and the GCC Cup in football, all of which we could do a very good job on getting it out to a wider audience. Our job is all about developing content in a variety of formats, and we've supplied customised products to corporates like Gillette and Mobil. That concept can be usefully expanded. We become their creative arm on sports content, branded as their show but made by us. It's a concept in its early days but very interesting, with lots of potential. These are advertising-funded programmes, but with a bit of a difference. You need to attract global brands, and it works best when the funding is centrally controlled. We see a lot of potential in the UAE with the tourism business. Organisations like Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways and the TDIC [Tourism Development and Investment Company] in Abu Dhabi could be interested in our products. There are also other events like sailing that could lend themselves to the formula, as well as involvement in the local football league.

The big event of the year is the Olympic Games in London. Are you playing any role in that?

Regrettably not. The Olympic coverage is all agreed and contracted with Olympic Broadcasting Services, a Spanish company. But we've got the rights to the Paralympics, which I'm very excited about this year. It's changed my view of disability to see what these athletes can do. Some sports are very difficult to break into, especially in the US, where the big networks get involved themselves. But we've bought a couple of US businesses on the West Coast and hope to make some inroads. But golf, for example, is carved up by IMG [one of the biggest players in the global sports broadcasting business]. Football too is very competitive, but we've made some inroads with broadcasting the Europa League for Channel 5 in the UK. And, of course, we do all the major horse racing in Britain - the Grand National, Royal Ascot, the Derby. That's why we feel so at home at the Dubai World Cup.