#360business: Hublot deal perfect timing

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Champion: Mayweather was Hublot sponsored.

Hublot have a lot of time for sport. They have a clear understanding of the profile of their most valuable customers and a high percentage of them either make a living out of it or are people who enjoy a lifestyle that is synonymous with sport and also happen to be more than a little wealthy.

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Their watches have always been distinctive since the company was founded in Switzerland in 1980. They are award-winning mechanical masterpieces with a chunky, sporty feel so the fit is perfect, whether it be Formula One, where Hublot are currently one of the sponsors of Ferrari or football where they have a high profile.

As a global company that focuses on exclusivity they are also incredibly particular about who they use to promote their brand but they have a knack of picking the right people at the right time, no more so than Floyd Mayweather Jnr.

He carried their name on his shorts, the first such deal in his career, when he beat Manny Pacquiao in Vegas in the early hours of yesterday morning. Mayweather delivered the kind of global clout that is invaluable from an awareness point of view.

Since 1980 the company has grown spectacularly, thanks to the innovative Jean-Claude Biver, who took over in 2004. He is currently chairman. It was bought in 2008 by the world leader in luxury products, LVMH, and is now famous for its Big Bang, King Power, Classic Fusion and MP timepieces.

Marco Tedeschi who started with Hublot in 2007 in charge of design and production is now Regional Director Middle East and Africa. He has a second role as creative manager involved in the product design, marketing and distribution and is in no doubt that sport has played a major role in his company’s spectacular growth.

He said: “It was very logical for us to be associated with sport because we have a sporty product and sport is life. Football is extremely important because we were the first luxury brand to be associated with the game.

“No other luxury brand was doing anything with football because it is a sport for the masses. That may be the case but many wealthy people love football.”

Hublot started their association with football in 2006 with sponsorship of the Swiss national team but the first major deal came in 2008 when they became the official timekeeper for Manchester United and the European Championship.

Sir Alex Ferguson at a Man Utd-Hublot event.

Two years later they made history by becoming the first official watch and timekeeper for FIFA and the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, giving the Swiss company instant global visibility.

Tedeschi said: “The main benefit of involving ourselves in football was to spread the knowledge and visibility of the brand and we knew we would get that because it is the most viewed sport on television.

“We did some research by monitoring our name on Google and it was clear that whenever there was a big match you saw a huge peak in search requests for Hublot. People see the brand name and maybe they are not sure what it is so they go to the internet and search.

“Have we seen a tangible increase in sales because of this? Yes, and no. Because people are searching for the brand does not mean we will sell to all of them but brand knowledge alone is important. This eventually drives sales and helps us develop the image of our brand.”

Although many football fans couldn’t afford to buy a Hublot watch the link with football obviously brings the brand into contact with rich footballers and managers who clearly like what they see.

Tedeschi added: “We have a huge list of players who buy our products. It’s quite funny because sometimes we have requests from players or managers asking for free watches, telling us that if they wear the watch it will promote the brand. We always say no because those people are our potential clients. If they want one, they will buy one.

“We do have two big name ambassadors in Maradona and Pele but that is different because they are out of the game and they are legends which is important for us. So, although I never say never, linking up with active players is not really part of our strategy.

Maradona sporting a Hublot jumpet.

“However, we do sponsor teams. We are with Juventus, Bayern Munich and Paris St Germain who we see as the very best in their respective countries.

“We were with Manchester United until two years ago when we decided to end our relationship mainly because Sir Alex Ferguson retired. Today, in the UK, we are with Jose Mourinho, so we have a link with Chelsea. We also use referee Howard Webb as a friend of the brand.”

Apart from football Hublot are also visible in cricket, creating a World Cup watch for this year’s tournament when they were official timekeepers, and they were the first brand to sponsor an NBA star with Dwyane Wade and Miami Heat on the East coast of America.

On the West coast they have Kobe Bryant and the LA Lakers. They were also the first luxury watch brand to sponsor American football with the Dallas Cowboys.

They also have links with Usain Bolt and golfer Justin Rose is an ambassador. Tennis is seen as an overcrowded domain for watch manufacturers which is why Hublot tend to steer clear.

Tedeschi said: “We chose Kobe because he has been active for a long time in basketball and he is still one of the most respected players. We went with Dwyane because that gave us our first involvement in the world of basketball.

“It is also worth pointing out that we do not pick the sports stars we work with randomly. It is always because they were Hublot clients before. That way we know they are already into our brand.

“Apart from these sports we are also actively involved in golf and are about to announce the Hublot Tour for amateurs. The idea is to invite our clients to play golf which is a good way to socialise with our customers. It will be a series of invitational tournaments in Europe and should start in June.

“Formula One is very important to Hublot. We were the official watch a few years back but decided to stop because we signed a partnership with Ferrari which meant, effectively, we had two contracts with the one benefit.

Key partner: Ferrari F1.

“As the Ferrari deal is a much wider partnership we decided to stop the F1 deal. We have been succeeded by Rolex which we are very happy about. When you are followed by Rolex it means you must have been doing things right.”

Since that first deal with the Swiss national team in 2006 Hublot have seen sales increase 20 times over. In 2005 they were producing around 2,000 watches a year. Today, it is around 40,000 and they employ around 450 people. The turnover of Hublot in 2005 was around $42million. When it was bought in 2008 it was estimated to be $250 million putting the company at a totally different level.

Tedeschi added: “Our typical customer profile is aged between 25 and 40 and they like to wear products that are the latest trends, have cutting-edge technology.

“We are a men’s brand but now we are selling 35 per cent of our watches to ladies which is huge for a company that does not do jewellery. As a company, we want to be the first, different and unique. That is our strategy.”

Hublot opened a new boutique in Dubai Mall last week to cater for growing demand for their watches. They remain committed to sport and only time will tell how much more success it will bring them. 

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#360business: Teething troubles over as RL enters growth phase

Matt Jones 27/04/2015
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Breaking through: RLC President Sol Mokdad optimistic that league will grow in UAE.

Rugby league in the UAE is making huge gains in terms of popularity, exposure and support, but that’s not to say it hasn’t had its share of trying times.

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Firstly, it has to compete against its more illustrious and established older brother, rugby union.

Then there are financial implications – after the debut league season was played in 2013 there was then no competition at all in 2014 due to a lack of sponsorship.

There’s even the issue of, halfway through just its second season, the sport being forced to undergo a rapid rebrand due to the threat of legal action from the union governing body, the UAE Rugby Federation.

Despite suddenly changing name to Rugby League Commission, there are finally signs that progress is being made.

Two years ago, the RLC’s Lebanese president Sol Mokdad funded half of the entire rugby league season himself – at a personal cost of Dh15,000.

Now he has a chorus of helpers, including a board and executive committee ensuring he is no longer a one-man band.

Mokdad first laid the foundations for rugby league in the UAE in 2007 when there was no such thing in the country, taking it upon himself to approach the Rugby League European Federation (RLEF) to establish the sport in the Middle East, a truly daunting task.

The first Rugby League Cup was played in 2013 and won by Abu Dhabi Harlequins, but all of Mokdad’s work looked like it would be forgotten when the 2014 season failed to go ahead due to financial struggles, chief among them the failure to attract a sponsor.

After pumping his own money into the initial campaign, Mokdad knew he couldn’t afford to do the same again.

Another Dh10,000 in 2013 had come courtesy of PR agency TBWA/RAAD and a further Dh5,000  from merchandise.

The only option was to cancel the season, but in 2015 things appear to be running a lot smoother.

This year’s competition is known as the Nissan Rugby League Cup after the car manufacturer stumped up a five-figure sum.

Reigning champions Harlequins are back to defend their crown and are joined by Xodus Wasps, Al Ain Amblers and Dubai Sharks.

Even though the Nissan financial package is initially only for a season, talks are ongoing to expand that for another three years.

On top of that, a host of familiar names have leant their support. 

Fitness First provide Man of the Match awards. Bespoke Wellness supply the competition’s medical, physio and massage requirements both pre and post-match.

Zaatar W Zeit provide food for the players, while mineral water firm BLK supply referees kits.

To drive down costs further, the three rounds of the competition are played at a different venue each week, with every host club providing an ambulance each weekend.

At the third and Grand Final rounds in Al Ain, costs won’t be an issue as the club will provide its Al Ain Equestrian Shooting & Golf Club facilities for free.

All these are little boosts for a fledgling organisation, but something Mokdad hopes might develop into full financial backing soon.

“It’s come a long way since 2007 and has come on leaps and bounds this season, thanks to the exposure we’re getting,” said Mokdad. 

“We’ve been able to get really good people on board. Before it was a one man show, just me, and there’s only so much I could do.”

Rugby union in the UAE, like league, is an amateur sport. 

However, when you consider that the Rugby League Commission supplied its own kits to three of the teams in 2013, while Dubai Exiles have a reportedly lucrative shirt sponsorship deal with AIG, union is still light years ahead.

“I’ve had this running battle with the governing body where they expect us to compete with rugby union,” said the 30-year-old. 

“Union here is huge. They have a lot of money and access to funds whereas we’re trying to develop a sport with a similar concept with no funds from anywhere. 

“It’s very difficult without sponsors. I’ve put a lot of my own money into it to get it going. It’s picked up now and more people are on board.”

Much of that is thanks to Nissan, although the sponsorship for this season almost never arrived.

Arabian Automobiles Company (AAC) are the sole distributor of Nissan in Dubai and the Northern Emirates. An original six-figure deal was reduced to five because

AAC were unsure about backing rugby. They almost backed out, but decided to go ahead for this season.

Mokdad said: “It will be readdressed at the end of the season. We’re already looking at them taking us on for another three years, and the exposure we are getting is helping us. It’s definitely something they’re interested in. 

“We’re putting all our eggs into the basket of the Grand Final and hopefully, by then, they’ll have decided how they want to move forward. Associating with big brands will get more companies buying into what you want to do.”

After three weeks of Cup competition, the Grand Final will be played in Al Ain on Friday, May 15.

Venues are another area where the RLC has been able to drive down costs and Mokdad said: “It’s really expensive to run a sport in Dubai. Especially in terms of facilities, because there’s so many people competing for the same amount of space.

“You won’t be able to find anything for less than Dh1,000 per hour for a decent, full-sized pitch, and that’s even if you can find one. At Dubai Sports City, just for the facilities and water, it costs Dh4,600 before anyone did anything.”

In addition to Nissan’s backing and each team paying a registration fee of Dh1,500 each, the league operates on Dh16,000 a season.

Whatever happens in the future, Mokdad insists rugby league is here to stay.

“What happened in 2014 is a thing of the past because we’ve got a functioning board and executive committee whose sole purpose is commercial drive and the commercial side of the RLC,” he said. 

“Their job is to get sponsors. We can run the competition at a low cost because there only has to be four teams and a round robin format to meet affiliate criteria. 

“We’re not obliged to have a longer season which costs more. We can run the competition for as low as Dh5,000. It won’t be as flash but there’s no worries about it not going ahead again. 

“And we’re already planning to expand next season as I’ve already had calls from two teams who want to enter, Dubai Exiles and Beaver Nomads. With more teams, comes more interest and more sponsors.”

As for future plans, becoming an affiliate member of the governing body is at the top of the agenda.

Mokdad said: “We receive no funds from the Rugby League International Federation (RLIF) or RLEF as of yet because we’re only observer members. 

“That is the first level of membership to the RLEF. What we’re trying to get by our AGM in July is affiliate membership, which means we can apply for funds and grants.”

Part of reaching affiliate status is the implementation of youth programme and national representation, both of which the RLC is keen to address.

They are planning on staging an international fixture against Lebanon in June and will also be hosting a Rugby World Cup qualifier between Lebanon and South Africa in October.

A singular rugby league academy is also in the pipeline, with aims to boost the ranks of the national team, the Falcons.

“Our ultimate plan is do what we’re doing now again next year, but bigger and better,” said Mokdad.

“We want all the money from sponsorship to go towards putting on a real spectacle of an event. It definitely feels like things are starting to come together.”

Meet the teams…

Abu Dhabi Harlequins

Coach: Tony Scott

Previous best: Reigning champions (2013). Quins were undefeated as they lifted the first rugby league trophy, historically becoming the first champions of a domestic rugby league competition held in the Emirates.

Star players: Lots of Quins’ exciting young union prospects are part of their league team, including the explosive Iziq Foa’i, William Umu and Ben Santamarina. New guys Matt Smith, Brian Geraghty and Scott Brodie have also been making headlines in the early weeks of the season.

Xodus Wasps

Coach: James Agus

Previous best: 2013 Plate winners. Wasps beat Al Ain Amblers 60-36 two years ago but under Agus, a former Great Britain youth international and Leeds Rhinos academy player, they are looking to make the Cup final this season.

Star players: They have a host of former league stars and promising young talent from the UK. Centre Jaymes Chapman formally played for Halifax, Conor Armstrong is a product of Warrington Wolves’ academy and Sam Housley used to play for Huddersfield Giants.

Al Ain Amblers

Coach: Keleto Dyer

Previous best: Formed in 2013, the Amblers went down to the Xodus Wasps in the Plate final two seasons ago, but have come into the Nissan Rugby League Cup on the back of an awesome union season in which they won the UAE Conference and won promotion to the UAE Premiership.

Star players: Ranato Tikoisolomone and Joshua Raviti Navabale are two players with rugby league experience, while the club’s powerful Fijian contingent provide energy, as well as new South African signing Tiaan Visser. Beat Dubai Sharks 100-6 in round two of the competition last week.

Dubai Sharks

Coach: Ray Shaw

Previous best: New boys Sharks are in unchartered waters, making their debut in the Nissan Rugby
League Cup.

Star players: Little general Dan Crumplin, who is the side’s skipper and scrum-half, is an explosive player. Stevie Lennard, a union second row who’s physical game suits league, has also been singled out. Union players Alan Robertson and Etienne Masson are also in the team, while Aphaxard Andrew is a handful.

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How a Swiss watchmaker entered football with bumper Barca deal

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On the rise: Watchmaker Maurice Lacroix has increased in popularity since its sponsorship with Barcelona.

Sport360 recently caught up with Stephane Waser, managing director at Maurice Lacroix, to discover how the luxury watchmaker’s foray into football with FC Barcelona is going.

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When did the partnership with FC Barcelona start?

SW: The partnership kicked off last year – we are just about to complete the first full season with the club.

How is the exclusive FC Barcelona timepiece collection going since announcing the partnership?

SW: It is selling quite well for a sports collection. However, some people actually didn’t want the timepiece with the FC Barcelona logo, so we decided to make the same timepieces from the collection without the football club’s logo.

Since the partnership, would you say Maurice Lacroix has experienced a big growth in terms of sales?

SW: Awareness is rising because you have 400,000 people that know more about Maurice Lacroix than before and it is quite good as an image with FC Barcelona being one of the greatest clubs in the world. But it is also what you do out of it and how both sides can leverage from the partnership.

What prompted the partnership with Barcelona?

SW: It was a combination of the team and the sport, because it is quite a popular sport, so it is about mass. If you were to go for tennis, it would be very specific and congested as well.

One of Maurice Lacroix’s ambassadors is Australian Olympic swimmer James Magnussen – what encouraged the brand to sign him?

SW: It was purely the image of James. He came to us and made us aware that he really likes what we are doing. So it was a lot of personal motivation from his end, due to his love for the brand.

Will you keep pushing for sports related partnerships?

SW: We want to focus on football to be honest. We already have four clubs in Germany within the Bundesliga. We also just signed FC Basel and will be looking for other clubs in the future to sign partnerships with.

Football is a great business model. You can get a lot of it in terms of hospitality; image and you also reach the right people.

Does Maurice Lacroix have big plans for the Middle East?

SW: We just re-launched in the Middle East just recently. We were very strong in the region during the late 1990s and at one point would sell 80,000 watches a year in Saudi Arabia.

Then with 2008-09 we changed our strategy and tried to go a little higher but it did not really work out. So now we are back to where we had all our success in the commercial range; timepieces that are between the one to Dhs3,800 – Dhs11,600 range as well as a few nice PR pieces.

Who would you say is your biggest competitor in the Middle East market?

SW: TAG Heuer and Longines would be our two biggest competitors. That is the level at which we position ourselves, so these two brands fit.

Would you ever consider tapping into the Formula One sphere?

SW: You need a lot of money to enter the F1 sponsorship world and everybody is in there; Rolex, Hublot, TAG, etc. We got such an exceptional deal with FC Barcelona that we could get a lot of out it. This is a unique deal.

Two of the players that make the Barca squad tick, Lionel Messi (L) and Neymar (R).

How long is the partnership with the football club for?

SW: It is a three-year partnership, so two more to go. Once the three years are up, we will meet with the club and discuss the possibility of extending.

What is next for Maurice Lacroix?

SW: Football of course – with the unique player watch collection. With the big 40-year anniversary also happening this year, we are planning a huge promotion starting September.

We also just signed a Korean ambassador for the Asian market, who is very popular in China, another strong market for the brand.

Would Maurice Lacroix enter anything other than timepieces?

SW: I do not think so. We want to stick to our core business, watches. We do have cufflinks and wallets, but only sell them in complete sets. However, for markets like the Middle East, we feel we should focus solely on watches as it has the greatest potential.

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