x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

HSBC thinking over another round of golf

The next few months should prove interesting for a certain division of the global banking giant HSBC, and not just because only one year is left on the sponsorship contract with the popular Abu Dhabi event on the European Tour.

Giles Morgan, HSBC's global sponsorship chief, is coy about the possibility of bringing back Tiger Woods to the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. Woods is playing in the Dubai Desert Classic next week after playing at Abu Dhabi Golf Club in 2012 and 2013.  Andrew Redington / Getty Images
Giles Morgan, HSBC's global sponsorship chief, is coy about the possibility of bringing back Tiger Woods to the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. Woods is playing in the Dubai Desert Classic next week after playing at Abu Dhabi Golf Club in 2012 and 2013. Andrew Redington / Getty Images

ABU DHABI // The next few months should prove interesting for a certain division of the global banking giant HSBC, and not just because only one year is left on the sponsorship contract with the popular Abu Dhabi event on the European Tour.

The company also stages a co-sanctioned World Golf Championships tournament called the HSBC Champions, an event on the LPGA, a tournament in Brazil and also underwrites the British Open.

All five deals expire at some point next year.

That was by design.

The bank will take a long look at whether it will continue with golf sponsorship at current, higher or lower levels.

Whether that multi-tournament marketing plan will eventually help Abu Dhabi secure a contract renewal requires some parsing of words and reading between the lines.

“Whether we continue them all or not, that will all be busy with lawyers and contracts and the rest of it,” said Giles Morgan, the HSBC global sponsorship chief, over the weekend.

“Actually, it’s really pleasing, because we have done a lot of them, whether it’s Champions or here, and you have seen it at this event here – it’s just gotten better and better naturally.

“So, it is a much easier case than when you first start a new sponsorship and you don’t know how successful it’s going to be, what’s going to work, what’s not going to work.

“I’m very clear about how this event has grown, and it’s a big international sports event, in Abu Dhabi. One of the questions we often get asked – about the European Tour, the PGA Tour, the International Federation of Tours – I am fairly neutral to that. We just want big golf tournaments in major areas around the world, and whoever is the host tour will drive that.”

Likewise, whoever is the sponsor will fund it.

After an unfortunate run of luck in Ahu Dhabi last year, when the world Nos 1-2 Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods missed the cut, this year’s final round was tense and thick with top players.

The two biggest stars this year, Phil Mickelson and McIlroy, battled down to the 72nd hole before finishing in a tie for second, one shot behind the upstart winner Pablo Larrazabal of Spain.

While Morgan was hard to pin down regarding plans for Abu Dhabi beyond the January 2015 event, he was even more coy about the possibility of bringing back Woods, who is playing in the Dubai Desert Classic next week after playing at Abu Dhabi Golf Club in 2012 and 2013.

In the past, Morgan has been critical of Woods for skipping the HSBC Champions.

“I think it’s more up to Tiger, to be honest,” Morgan said.

“He sets his schedule. When he comes, he has a huge appeal.

“What I am much more interested in building up, and what we have learned certainly from the last couple of Champions, is that golf has a lot golfers out there and I want the best golfers, plural, to come, rather than to focus on a certain individual.”

Morgan said that, at some point, HSBC and the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority, who underwrite the tournament and determine which players are targeted to receive appearance fees, would contact Woods’s management team.

“What I am pleased about is that there are a lot of other big draws, and those players coming through are the future of the game, rather than looking back always, just onto the sort of events that use one player to try to create the show,” he said.

Morgan said he was intrigued by the notion of staging the tournament from Wednesday through Saturday, a playing schedule already used by this week’s the Qatar Masters to showcase the fan turnout on weekends in the Gulf area.

Attendance on Sundays drops because it is a work day in the UAE, and the galleries are thinner than on the busier weekend days.

Organisational moves are not his decision, however.

Moreover, the Western television markets need Sunday programming and viewers generally have locked into the Thursday-Sunday format.

“That would probably be something for the Abu Dhahi tourist authority to look at,” Morgan said. “That would be their recommendation. Because it’s international TV, it would not be so good. We want Sundays for the rest of the world.

“It would be balancing the needs of the local fan versus the international. Abu Dhabi wants to make this city, as a tourist destination, look as busy as possible to showcase to the rest of the world.”

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