INSIDE STORY: TAG Heuer rekindle cycling love affair

TAG Heuer has gone back in time and rekindled its relationship with professional cycling after a 20-year hiatus but charismatic CEO Jean-Claude Biver can’t be accused of winding the clock back in his latest venture.

Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho are arguably two of the very best exponents of man management football has seen.

While the Special One’s aura has taken a hit in the past two seasons, the legendary Scot embodied the ‘it’s my way or the high way approach’ – delivering success which cannot be questioned and probably won’t ever be matched either.

Current Red Devils boss Mourinho, for the most part, adopts the same ideology. But what do both famed managers have in common with Tag Heuer, the luxury Swiss watch manufacturing company?

Aside from sponsorship links down the years – with Tag being Manchester United’s current official timekeeper in addition to having had a long-standing connection with the Old Trafford club during Ferguson’s long tenure – and Mourinho too having a personal association with Tag – the answer is pretty simple.

Both Ferguson and Mourinho admire the management philosophy of Mr Biver and in two separate meetings with the 67-year old business tycoon – they have complimented his leadership style.

“Both Sir Alex and Jose have visited La Chaux-de-Fonds, our factory base in the Jura mountains, and although the visits were five years apart, they each liked the way I managed my people, spoke to them and the respect I show,” he told Sport360 in Doha.

“Sir Alex told me: ‘You can come and manage my team because you are a real manager’.”

Mourinho uttered near on identical words.

“It was the biggest compliment I could receive and one I’ll always remember. I say the same back to them,” he added.

“They respect the players – they don’t just use them and their key focus is to make them better and become successful.

“I’ve got to know both managers well, they are my friends. Jose is aggressive to the media sometimes but that isn’t the way he is, it’s a front to protect his players and people.

“He is a very nice human being and Sir Alex is the same – they enjoy getting the best out of people. And winning, of course.”

Biver’s strong faith in Manchester United has shown no sign up of let-up despite their dip in form on the pitch – as he feels their brand is as good as ever. He is not concerned at all – and why should he be – given the financial clout United still carry.

“The club is a huge, massive asset for Tag Heuer. Manchester United is a brand and they are more than a team. We want to support them more in this new era and take our relationship even further into Asian and Middle East markets,” the Tag supremo said, while also confirming he is in favour of the Premier League playing additional matches outside England in the future.

For Luxembourg-born Biver, who as President of the LVMH Watch Division is active across several high-profile watch brands and is known for producing famed cheese at his farm in the Swiss Alps, man-management is the key.

In fact, he is a complete opposite from a stereotypical CEO, given that he gets involved on the ground in his factory and is known for being very approachable and contactable for all his 42 years in business.

“I think to be a good manager you must love people and share the success, troubles, failures, vision and hope,” he said. “But, most importantly, treat people with respect. I forgive the mistakes – nobody is perfect. This is the way I handle people.”

And with that, comes his latest venture. From January 1 2017, the Swiss avant-garde watchmaker will be the BMC Racing Team’s official timekeeper.

The partnership is something of a throwback. In 1985, more than 30 years ago, TAG Heuer moved in earnest into the world of professional cycling as sponsor of the HEUER SKIL SEM team and its leader Sean Kelly.

And then from 1986-1987 to 1990, the brand’s involvement continued with Team KAS TAG HEUER and the American 7-Eleven Cycling Team, founded by none other than Jim Ochowicz – the current President and General Manager of the BMC Racing side.

It was an obvious choice for Biver to reconnect with the sport he loves, as many factors tempted him back.

“TAG and BMC are both Swiss, embody prestige and luxury and boast the latest technology. The owner, Andy Rihs, is a good friend of mine and we have always had a good relationship,” Biver said.

“We have the same production, our factories are close together, we know our people – there’s a real synergy. Cycling is one of the biggest growing sports, appealing from young to old, has health benefits and is constantly evolving.

“Take the hosting of the UCI Championships in Qatar in October – the first time the event has been staged in the Middle East – for example.

“Qatar has been clever and welcomed the future, combining and connecting with tomorrow and not to yesterday.”

Biver is keen to keep expanding Tag’s impressive arm of big-name clients. Indeed, their roster of football talent is actually overwhelming.

It currently includes the Premier League, Bundesliga, La Liga, the MLS, China’s Super League, the Australian National football team, the Copa America and International Champions Cup.

And while the aforementioned carry considerable clout, the endorsement and link with ambassador Cristiano Ronaldo is arguably one of the most significant cogs they have in their sponsorship wheel at the moment.

“Cristiano brings a lot of followers! If he says ‘today, I’m going to wear my Tag Heuer’ – 100 million people will see and read it,” he explained.

“This is massive and what Cristiano does is make people dream.

“Young people are sometimes dreaming about actors, actresses, sports people and Cristiano is moving a lot of people – he brings us an image transfer, through the transformation of performance, success and awareness.”

Away from the glamour of Ronaldo and Co, Tag has definitely gone back to its roots by connecting with cycling again. For a sport which doesn’t exude the same kind of financial reward as football, the link-up is special for BMC, especially to one of their riders – experienced Australian road racing star Richie Porte.

He said: “When I was riding with Team Sky in 2013, I pointed out a watch to Chris Froome – my close mate and team-mate at the time. I said: ‘that’s my dream watch’.

“We went to the Tour de France that year and Froomy obviously had an incredible run and won the Yellow Jersey.

“I was there helping him so after the tour that’s what he got me, that exact Tag watch I had shown him.

“It was a really nice memento and this sponsorship means something to me.”


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