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Fairway to heaven: a commercial preview to the Ryder Cup

22 September 2014 | Posted in Magazine Features | By Finlay Hutchison | Contact the author

Fairway to heaven: a commercial preview to the Ryder Cup

Golf’s elite converge on the PGA Centenary course at Gleneagles from 23rd September for the 2014 edition of the Ryder Cup. Along with the Rory McIlroys and Phil Mickelsons of the world, global businesses will also be hoping to make a name for themselves in Scotland. 

By Finlay Hutchison

The home of golf has waited 41 years for the return of the Ryder Cup. The last time the event was held in Scotland was in 1973 at Muirfield. Since then, a number of changes have been made to the tournament, although the Ryder Cup match format remains the same.

The biennial event consists of 12 players from the USA and Europe competing against one another over three days of competition. Teams play four-ball, foursomes and finally singles on the Sunday to decide the victors. There is no prize money, only the iconic Ryder Cup trophy for the winners.

As this year’s Ryder Cup is held in Europe – the right to host alternates between the two competitors - it is the European Tour’s responsibility to organise and run the event. When the tournament is held in the United States, the PGA of America takes control of the reins.

For the European Tour in particular, the competition has grown into a key driver of revenue. The 2006 Ryder Cup at the K Club in Ireland generated revenue in the region of UK£50 million, of which just over UK£10 million was declared as profit. Sir Terry Matthews, owner of Celtic Manor, invested around UK£50 million to host the 2010 edition at his course in Wales. For the European Tour, the main source of income comes from its television rights deal with Sky, which runs until at least 2018, but the Ryder Cup rights are bundled with the rest of the tour package.

In terms of commercial set-up, the PGA of America tends to reserve a cleaner course with fewer sponsors. For the upcoming event at Gleneagles, there are 38 sponsors in all, categorised into four distinct branches: official partners, official suppliers, team suppliers and official licensees.

Richard Hills, the European Ryder Cup director since 1994, explains that commercial growth has come about after the European organisers adopted an Olympic-style category-based sponsorship model.

“When I started way back in the 1980s we had the privilege of working when the match was originally sponsored by Bell’s and then Johnnie Walker,” says Hills. “That model was changed to a programme not dissimilar to the TOP programme in the Olympics where we now have a family of partners in and around the match who’ve all been very good in their activation this time round.” Rolex, BMW, Standard Life Investments, EY and Diageo are this year’s top-tier official partners.

Gleneagles MD Patrick Elsmie and Diageo’s Peter Lederer flank Alex Salmond and Richard Hills

Assessing the success of the event for all stakeholders is a process that Hills says takes some four months to complete. Studies indicate that the last European Ryder Cup in Wales in 2010 generated an economic impact of UK£82.5 million. Stakeholders in the Gleneagles event, particularly VisitScotland, anticipate more this time round, and those figures will be delivered by Hills’ team, alongside the Scottish government and Sheffield Hallam University, in early 2015.

At the time of this interview, a month out from the event in late August, Hills was confident that preparations were progressing smoothly. “The build-up started around six weeks ago, the team has been on site putting in all the infrastructure,” says Hills.

“There’s an awful lot that goes on underground before the tent and structures start to go upwards, so a lot of work on fibre optic cables has gone under the ground and has done for many years.”

“For me,” he continues, “a successfully delivered Ryder Cup match is one where every spectator has been able to attend in a safe and secure manner and has had a spectator experience that they have enjoyed and valued.”

To that end, it is not only the course at Gleneagles that has been redeveloped. The Gleneagles train station has undergone a UK£7.4 million remodel for the Ryder Cup, in order to cope with the footfall for the event. More than 240,000 visitors walked through the gates at Medinah, Illinois, for the last edition of the Ryder Cup in 2012. New waiting rooms, lifts and toilets have been built in order to cater for the many golf fans that will pass through the station on their way to the Jack Nicklaus designed course in Perthshire.

As for the future of the Ryder Cup, with Europe having replaced Britain and Ireland as America’s opponents in 1979, continental Europe is due to host more matches. Only once, in 1997 at Valderrama in Spain, has the tournament been hosted there. The Ryder Cup in 2018 will be played at the Le Golf National outside of Paris and in addition to this, Hills adds, “A big process has opened now for 2022. The applications thus far have been from continental Europe and we would encourage that.”

A few days after Hills’ interview, Austria, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Turkey all submitted their intention to bid for 2022.

The Ryder Cup trophy was delivered to Gleneagles via helicopter on 10th September; Scotland is hosting the event for the first time since 1973

The Sponsors

- Official Partner

Ernst & Young (EY) were announced as official partners in August 2012. The London based firm is coming off the back of the Commonwealth Games, where it was the professional services advisor. In the upcoming two years, EY will provide the same service at the IRB Rugby Wold Cup in late 2015 and the Rio 2016 Olympics Games. Despite this, the Ryder Cup represents something different for the company.

“The Ryder Cup sponsorship is really the first major deal we have done as a firm in pure sponsorship terms,” says Tom Kingsley, director of brand, marketing and communications for EY.

“A central plank of our strategy as a firm is to deliver exceptional client service through high performing teams,” he says. “The Ryder Cup is the premier team golf event and we are very clear, not that EY does golf, but EY does high performance teams and leadership.”

For EY the focus is not solely on the 12 players and the two captains during the course of the event. Their specially created tournament website instead homes in on the team behind the team with specific blogs and stories, ranging from the Gleneagles green keeper to the European team psychologist.

The firm has also organised its own, 12-person Ryder Cup roster, in preparation for the event. Those who successfully negotiate the internal staff management programme are awarded one of the 12 positions to work at Gleneagles.

“We’ve been able to work with [European captain] Paul McGinley and really be able to explore the overlap between leadership in sport and leadership in business which has been incredibly successful,” explains Kingsley.

As for the result on the course: “it would be nice from an EY perspective if Europe could bring it home. Ultimately it doesn’t matter because we have almost as many international clients coming as we do European so what we want to see is a closely fought match that goes to the 17th or 18th hole. From a personal perspective, I think Europe will win.”

- Official Team Supplier and Team Licensee

The partnership between Glenmuir and the Ryder Cup is one of the longest-standing, high profile deals not only in golf but in all of sport. Founded in 1897, the Scottish based company has designed and produced clothing for Team Europe since 1987 and will continue to do so until at least 2018. With the consumer side of golf worth millions, the kit on show at Gleneagles will be under close scrutiny from stylists and shoppers alike.

Mikhel Ruia, managing director of Glenmuir, explains how the unique aspect of the Ryder Cup benefits his brand: “The teamwear really bonds the players, players put their other sponsorships aside and for that one week they are all in Glenmuir shirts and sweaters so we are very proud to create that bonding experience,” he says.

“We put Seve Ballesteros on the sleeve on the last day at Medinah and it was great that a lot of the players were pointing and kissing the logo,” he continues. “It was almost like that inspiration got created from the clothing because of course we put the Seve logo there.”

For many of the 2014 Ryder Cup sponsors, the result is immaterial. The same cannot be said for Glenmuir.

“Europe winning impacts on sales,” says Ruia. “If Europe win, people want to buy a winning shirt not a losing shirt so that is a big deal for us.”

Europe has won seven of the last nine Ryder Cups and Glenmuir will be hoping this recent success can continue at Gleneagles despite lingering doubts.

“Five or six weeks ago I had a nightmare there were some newspaper headlines with an image of Rory McIlroy trying to rip off his left sleeve saying ‘Glenmuir ruined Ryder Cup Victory’. I woke up in cold sweats at 4am and straight away emailed my designer. The next day we went through all the specs and of course they were all fine.”

He adds: “There are some things you can’t plan for but if they do happen we know how to react, we have been there and done that in the past.”

- Official Supplier

Announced as the official coffee suppliers for the 2014 Ryder Cup last year, Nespresso boasts Jose Maria Olazabal, the 2012 Ryder Cup Captain, as its golf ambassador. The Swiss based company were an official supplier the last time the event was held in Europe in 2010 and sponsor other unique sporting events such as sailing’s Americas Cup.

According to Stephane Detaille, sponsorship and marketing manager for Nespresso, the company’s sponsorship strategy is built on three layers, the top of which is labelled the ‘ultimate event’. “Ultimate events are what we consider the ultimate events in the sports category and for us, that is what we consider the Ryder Cup to be in golf, because of the history, the values, the team spirit and the atmosphere.”

For this year’s Ryder Cup, Nespresso will have more than 450 machines on site at Gleneagles and are expected to sell over 250,000 coffees over four days.

“It is our biggest event ever in terms of coffee set-up. We put a lot of effort into how we set up the machines, the way we offer the coffee and we have been working with catering companies, with the European Tour, to build all those logistics on site.”

The company have also created their own Ryder Cup website with a ‘perfect shot’ promotion, endorsed by Ryder Cup ambassadors Jodie Kidd and Marvin Humes. Three winners will be given a pair of VIP tickets to the event.

On site, Nespresso will have four coffee bars including one that will house a social wall and a picture exhibition showcasing Jose Maria Olazabal’s Ryder Cup memories.
“Of course we will measure our success if our visitors are happy with the coffee experience, that is very important,” he adds. “The key aspect on site is the product experience and the way we will serve and display our coffee at the event.”

As for the ideal outcome on the course, “the perfect result for us is that the best team wins, I’m hoping the Nespresso coffee will give a bit of a push to Europe.”

Standard Life Investments
- Official Partner

Standard Life Investments are the Ryder Cup’s first worldwide partner; they are partners of both Ryder Cup Europe and the PGA of America. The Edinburgh-based asset management firm signed a lucrative deal with Scotland’s Andy Murray in June and will also sponsor the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine, Minnesota in 2016.

“Europe and the USA are two of Standard Life Investments’ important regions which makes the sponsorship a perfect match for us in terms of our client base,” says Nuala Walsh (right), head of global client relations at Standard Life Investments.

With EY and Nespresso promoting the game through captains past and present, Standard Life has also embraced this trend.

“We have been working with former Europe and US Ryder Cup captains Sam Torrance and Curtis Strange, who have contributed to an exclusive series of video content, hosted across our digital channels,” explains Walsh.

The series, named ‘Ryder Cup Decisions’, sees the two discuss their experience as captains in 2002, with team management and decision-making two of the most prominent topics.

“The Ryder Cup is more about the team and commitment to performance excellence rather than the choice of the sport itself,” Walsh continues. “As one of the most prestigious team events, the partnership is an exceptional platform to connect with our clients, consultants and our people.”

This article features in the upcoming October issue of SportsPro. To subscribe today, click here.

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