The Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship tees off on Thursday with Mercedes dealership Emirates Motor Company, the flagship of the Al Fahim Group, as official car supplier.
Frank Bernthaler, CEO Automotive of the Al Fahim Group spoke to Sport360 editor Steve McKenlay about the sponsorship and why the group is aligning itself with more sporting events in the capital.
Why have you got involved in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship?
Well, first of all because of our strategic partnership with the Abu Dhabi Sports Council which is now going into its second year. The first year was about discovering what we could do together, and learning from each other. We looked at a couple of events that we could possibly get involved in and decided to go for cycling with the Abu Dhabi Tour. This is not a sport we might usually look at but again, the ADSC is growing, as are we, and it was a good opportunity for us to do something as a sponsor and also as a corporate social responsibility action. They want to grow in Abu Dhabi and we are an Abu Dhabi-based company so it was a good fit and it was successful, from what we have seen.
Obviously, the HSBC Abu Dhabi Golf Championship is a different beast. I consider it the best of the European Tour tournaments in the region. The field is by far the best and when you look at the golf village and the way the tournament is organised it is first class.
The main reason, I guess, is because 60,000 plus people come over for four days and we know from the statistics of the past years that there are many people coming that are not on our radar yet. Western expats, who we have not really catered for in the past, Asian expats and some Arab expats so this is very interesting for us.
All the activations we are going to do is going to be focused on promoting the brand, our products and making sure that everybody understands that Emirates Motor Company is part of the Al Fahim Group. But also to support the tournament per se so that more people come than last year.
At Mercedes our claim is ‘the best or nothing’ and I am 100 per cent convinced that partnering up with this golf tournament which is the best you can get in golf in the Middle East is a perfect fit.
I was one of the key players when Mercedes-Benz associated itself with the Desert Classic so I know what a golf tournament can do for your brand. At that time it put Mercedes on the sports map in Dubai because before that it was BMW with golf, Audi with tennis and Mercedes nowhere. At the end of the day BMW dropped out and it took us four to six weeks to put our deal together with all the logistics and approvals you have to get.
When you decide to get involved in big international sporting events like this do you need the approval of Mercedes HQ?
No, we inform them and make sure we follow the guidelines. Obviously, we would hope for a contribution, maybe financially, because of the huge TV coverage these events get, particularly in Asia, so the value for Mercedes-Benz as a brand is huge. They supported the Desert Classic in the beginning, but right now they are not supporting us but what we wanted was to convince them that this is the right thing to do. I am hoping we can enhance our activations with some of the other big golf tournaments Mercedes sponsor like the Masters, the Open and PGA Championship.
Is the main reason for using sport to increase the awareness of your brand the fact that it gives you access to a young audience and therefore customers of the future?
You have to understand that our customer base here is younger anyway. We have 18 and 20-year-olds driving AMG cars. Normally the average age of an AMG driver is 50 plus or something like that. The average age of a Mercedes driver here in the region is 10 years less than it is in Europe.
That’s because it is a younger society here. Here you don’t see old people, and by that I mean 70 and 80-year-olds, walking on the streets like you do in Germany and the rest of Europe. We probably in the past did not have offers in place, like leasing or other good finance deals, or maybe we did not have the right product. Right now, Mercedes has the best product line ever and the entry point for the brand is lower so you can cater for the younger people. That is the message we want to get across.
Do you think your association with golf and other sports will persuade drivers of other brands to switch to Mercedes?
Yes, I think that will happen but only if we create the awareness. People think that everybody knows Mercedes but the car doesn’t sell by itself because the competition doesn’t sleep and secondly, I am not sure we have the awareness that we have an A-Class, a CLA or GLE or the largest SUV range of all luxury manufacturers. So an event like the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship gives us that exposure. It enables us to interact with the customers, talk to them and help them understand our products and what we are doing.
One of our activities at the event is to raffle a car which is something that has not been done before because we want to drive people into our showroom, not necessarily to buy but to create the awareness of our products. And I am sure we will succeed in that.
What would you say is the biggest plus of being the official car supplier to this tournament?
There are so many benefits to us but it is being associated with such a first class event. You talk about the Abu Dhabi Sports Council, you talk about all the other sponsors and you feel they are all leaders – first class brands and I have to say not too many tournaments can make that claim.
Did you sponsor the Abu Dhabi Tour cycling event because it is a growing sport in the region?
Yes, that was one of the reasons but it’s not only cycling. Sport in general is growing, particularly sport for the masses. In the case of the Abu Dhabi Tour the country is creating a sporting opportunity for the masses on a bike.
Where else in the world can you ride a bike on a Formula One track, like you can in Abu Dhabi every week, except when it is too hot? Even the leaders in Abu Dhabi are cycling which, for us, is very interesting. The people who cycle usually buy expensive bikes which makes them potential customers because that means they are also likely to buy our cars. I know the Abu Dhabi Sports Council has big plans for the cycling so for us to be associated with something that is successful is great.
Why is social responsibility important to you?
This is to do with the Al Fahim family and being embedded in the society of Abu Dhabi, not only in sport but in many other areas. What we are trying to do is find a good combination so we are not doing things just because of corporate social responsibility. We are always looking for a good synergy. If we support the sports council in an event it is because we believe in what Abu Dhabi and the ADSC is doing in trying to get more Emiratis active in sports but on the other hand I am also looking on the commercial side – to whom are we talking? Is there a synergy? If these two are good and the deal is good then we go for it.
Are there any other sports in Abu Dhabi you might sponsor?
We are looking at the Abu Dhabi Community Run which is great for us and we will be encouraging our employees to participate. Maybe one day there will be an Abu Dhabi Marathon like the Dubai Marathon. I wouldn’t be surprised if that happened. We are also talking about possibly sponsoring the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon but we have nothing concrete at the moment. It is something we would like to sponsor.
How does your company benefit from the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and the fact that Mercedes are currently dominant?
As long as Mercedes keep winning it brings tangible benefits when the grand prix comes to Abu Dhabi. It gets people talking and we have the two drivers in the showroom at least for a couple of hours. The fact that we can talk about the winning team within a very successful business helps. But this is only occasional because during the four years of Red Bull dominance we could not talk about Mercedes success. However, we can always talk about motorsport in general because it is part of the Mercedes DNA and you can see that in our AMG cars. More than 40 per cent of our product offerings is AMG and that means motorsport and racing. That is why it is natural for us be associated with Abu Dhabi motorsport and we are very active at Yas Marina Circuit. We are trying to increase that activity and I hope that soon every AMG customer from EMC will have the possibility to go to Yas and test their cars there in a race environment and in that way you can bring F1 to reality for everybody.
How did you fare in challenging 2015 trading conditions?
We have sold more cars than last year. We grew our sales business by 8.3 per cent. That is a combination of Mercedes-Benz cars, commercial vehicles, Fiat and Jeep. The lowest growth rate we had on Mercedes cars was slightly shy of three per cent. But the overall market declined by between five and 10 per cent. So we have grown our business in a tough environment.
Importantly, we don’t sit on massive stocks so we are not forced to do deals just to get rid of cars and create cash. We are in a healthy business position and not too many competitors can say that.
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