x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Sponsorship in sport can be a force for the greater good

Throwing huge sums of money at sport might benefit everyone in the long term, says Kevin Hackett.

Sponsorship in motorsport does sometimes result in some pretty weird happenings. I once interviewed Lewis Hamilton for all of five minutes and he must have mentioned McLaren's sponsors in every sentence he uttered. What does he like to do in his spare time, I enquired? He replied something along the lines of, "I like to drive my Mercedes, check the time on my Tag Heuer and use Vodafone to call the missus". It was all a bit embarrassing, yet this shove-it-down-everyone's-throats name checking is undoubtedly a part of Hamilton's - and any other F1 driver's - contract.

The appeal of sponsoring an F1 team is obvious. Have your company's name and logo plastered all over a sleek, incredibly fast car, which will be seen by untold millions across the globe every time there is a televised race, with an undeniable cachet if your team happens to achieve a podium finish. Result. Even if it does cost unimaginably huge sums of money for the privilege.

But the benefits of sponsorship go much further than that. Just consider the Infiniti and Red Bull Racing connection for a moment. Infiniti knew that its brand awareness in countries other than the United States and those in the GCC was pitiful, so it made the highly unusual decision to sponsor an F1 team, with which it had no previous dealings and definitely no previous collaborative engineering programmes. The result? Even the Brits now know about Infiniti, and the champion driver Sebastian Vettel has had a hand in "designing" an overpriced FX. Business for the luxury arm of Nissan is rather brisk at the moment.

Corporate hospitality is another hugely important part of motorsport sponsorship. Infiniti's connection with Red Bull's team means it can invite its most important clients along to races, introduce them to champion drivers and keep its brand awareness on a high. However, there are other ways into the game that don't require such a financial outlay or logistical nightmares. Motorsport does not begin and end with F1, no matter what some may think.

As glamorous and untouchable as F1 undoubtedly is, it's still no match for the likes of the 24-hours of Le Mans or the Nürburgring 24 when it comes to outright spectator thrills, and other, smaller companies do manage to grab a piece of the action. Take Aston Martin Racing, for instance, which has managed to battle against all the odds and financial hardships to dominate the petrol-powered LMP1 class, while Audi and Peugeot flatten everyone else with diesel power. Aston Martin is a class name and one of its main sponsors is a fabulous gentlemen's clothing company from the UK: Hackett.

No, unfortunately it's not some family heirloom of mine, but I do know some of the people involved fairly well, including Hackett's founder, Jeremy Hackett. He admits he doesn't know much about cars, but he does like Aston Martins, and if his company name and logo were going to be attached to a racing car, an Aston would always, like his clothes, be a perfect fit.

The upshot is that Hackett designed Aston Martin Racing's team wear and, again, brand awareness within the right circles went through the roof. Hackett produces a line of Aston Martin Racing clothing and accessories, which is sold through its network of stores (there's one in Dubai Mall), is incredibly popular with customers and does nothing to dilute the classiness of either of these most British of businesses.

Locally, it's also heartening to note that the luxury watch company Tag Heuer has gone into partnership with the Dubai Autodrome and one of the key elements will be to initiate and develop projects with the goal to promote motorsport at a national level. It's high time a company like this saw the potential of the Autodrome, and proves that sponsorship is sometimes about more than money, money, money - it can actually be a force for the greater good.