Does Ascot’s new sponsorship deal with Dubai Duty Free represent a step-change in the commercial model of one of the UK’s most historic venues?
The growing influence of the Middle East in the horse racing world was demonstrated at the end of April when airport retailer Dubai Duty Free (DDF) was unveiled as an official sponsor of the UK’s Ascot Racecourse.
For DDF, the deal represents an expansion of an existing arrangement with the course. DDF will continue as title sponsor of the Shergar Cup for a further three years, until at least 2016, with the company also securing exclusive naming rights to all six races on the day’s racecard. Exact financial details of the deal were not disclosed, but all six races will see their prize money increased by £10,000 (€12,000/$17,000) to £40,000 each.
Moreover, and perhaps more significantly, DDF has become an ‘official sponsor’ of Ascot for the first time. For Ascot, the deal could illustrate an increasing acceptance of commercial partnerships that would have been unthinkable only a few years ago.
DDF has been involved with Ascot since the move of the team jockeys’ competition from Goodwood in 2000, firstly as a Rest of the World team sponsor and then, from 2006, as an event sponsor. However, the new agreement represents the most significant deal with DDF to date, and Ascot chief executive Charles Barnett acknowledges that the racecourse is keen to build links with the Middle East.
In January, QIPCO, a holding company for Qatar’s ruling Al Thani family, entered into a five-year partnership to become an official sponsor of Royal Ascot, the most prestigious meeting held at the course.
The agreement marked an expansion of QIPCO’s increasing involvement in UK horse racing, with the company already sponsoring British Champions Day and the British Champions Series.
Ascot Racecourse was founded in 1711 by Queen Anne and since then a further 11 have leant their patronage to the Royal racecourse. However, until the QIPCO deal, the Queen has resisted calls to introduce sponsorship of select races at Royal Ascot.
“All deals we have with Middle Eastern contacts help to open up further relationships there,” Barnett told SportBusiness International. “These relationships may be in the nature of sponsorship, or merely hospitality and visits from racing enthusiasts.
“This [new deal with DDF] is not specifically a shift in our sponsor model because of the long-term relationship we have with DDF, but we would like to use it as a template for future relationships.“DDF is a long-term sponsor of British racing and thus very important to the industry. The Shergar Cup is equally important toracing as a one-off event that brings top jockeys all around the world to compete against one another.”
Following the expansion of the DDF partnership, Barnett is making no secret of the fact that Ascot is on the lookout for other similar partners, adding: “we are in discussions with other parties”.
The Name Game
However, the big prize for organisations would arguably lie in the naming rights for an institution as famous as Ascot.
With Middle Eastern companies having struck up such high-profile deals in sports such as football – Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium and Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium being cases in point – and with horse racing considering increasingly creative ways of opening up new revenue streams, could Ascot’s naming rights be up for grabs?
“As DDF is the title sponsor of the Shergar Cup, we are looking for further similar relationships and already have something similar with QIPCO,” adds Barnett, who did not elaborate specifically on the possibility that Ascot Racecourse is in the market for a course title sponsorship.
“The Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup is key to our overall global strategy for Ascot. We spend a lot of time promoting the Royal meeting to overseas owners and trainers, and on this unique day of the year, that theme extends to the world’s best jockeys.”