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A Timeless Partnership

Elisha Chauhan finds out why Swiss watchmaker Longines has been a supporter of FIG (the International Gymnastics Federation) for over a century.

In 1912, luxury timepiece manufacturer Longines launched an innovative electro-mechanical timing system at the Swiss Federal Gymnastics Festival, an event that saw a world first in sports timekeeping: the introduction
of the first ‘broken wire’ automatic timing system based on the principle of the finish-line tape, snapped by the winner of a 100-metre race.

However, it wasn’t until 1989 that the brand was appointed the official timekeeper for all artistic and rhythmic gymnastics competitions held by the FIG, which added to its existing sport sponsorship portfolio of equestrian sport and alpine skiing. Currently, Longines also has associations with the Commonwealth Games, tennis’ Roland-Garros and World Archery.

Despite having its fingers in more than one sports pie, Longines president Walter von Känel believes that gymnastics, in particular, is synonymous with the work of a watchmaker.

“In gymnastics, movement is a challenge requiring not only flawless execution, but also intangible grace, beauty and harmony. This is known as elegance, which is one of our core values as stated in our slogan ‘Elegance is an Attitude’,” von Känel told SportBusiness International. “Therefore, supporting this discipline makes complete sense.

“We have a great professional and personal relationship with FIG, and this is certainly not unconnected to the fact that we have been the official partner and timekeeper of the federation for over 20 years now.”

Longines gets extensive branding at FIG events through advertising on apparatus and perimeter boards, and in collaboration with event officials and competitors, it has also developed the IRCOS (Instant Replay and Information System), which assists judges in evaluating disputed exercise sequences.

Longines also awards the ‘Prize for Elegance’ at each Artistic and Rhythmic Gymnastics World Championships, with prize-winners receiving a trophy, a cheque and a Longines watch.

“We don’t only support FIG events financially – it is also really important for us to walk hand-in-hand with local organisers and FIG to have the best event possible. In this regard, we consider ourselves a partner and not sponsor,” von Känel adds.

With FIG events receiving increased coverage on social media, as well as a potential Olympic TV channel in the IOC (International Olympic Committee)’s pipelines, Longines can expect the number of eyeballs reached by FIG’s marketing partners to increase for years to come, which is a key metric that von Känel measures the success of the partnership on.

“For us, success is determined by the media coverage and the general media interest in the event. Brand awareness amongst the spectators and gymnastics enthusiasts, as well as having the brand associated with the intrinsic elegance of gymnastics by the public is also important.

“Yes, [Longines has seen a healthy return from being a FIG sponsor], and this is also why we have been partner of FIG for over 20 years now. Gymnastics matches the values we promote, namely tradition, performance and elegance, and having our brand associated with these key qualities is already a great return in itself.”

With now over 100 years of presence in the sport, how will Longines ensure it continues to see a financial return from its sponsorship of FIG events? Von Känel believes in the old adage, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.

“Consistency, continuity and focus have always guided Longines’ activities. Therefore, although being open to new opportunities, we will apply the same activation strategies we have put in place,” he says.

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