- Longines sponsors over 20 properties in horse sports, including world’s most prestigious races and events
- Luxury watch brand is also lead partner of both major global governing bodies: the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities and International Federation for Equestrian Sports
- Blanket coverage of sport allows macro brand building and micro targeting of specific demographics
No brand may have quite the same level of sponsorship coverage in a single sport as luxury Swiss watchmaker Longines in equestrianism. “We feel we have become somewhat synonymous with horse sports,” Longines’ vice-president of marketing, Matthieu Baumgartner, tells SportBusiness.
The brand, part of the Swatch Group since the 1980s, is an official partner and timekeeper of more than 20 major horse sports properties, including some of the world’s most prestigious – Baumgartner lists off races such as the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Royal Ascot, the Kentucky Derby and the Dubai World Cup. It is also title sponsor of the Longines Hong Kong International and the global Longines Masters as well as a key partner of both global governing bodies, the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA) and International Federation for Equestrian Sports (FEI).
The lead partnership with the FEI, which was initially signed in 2013 before being expanded in 2017, is worth almost $14m a year over a ten-year period, according to SportBusiness data, and is the brand’s most significant outlay within the sport, contributing up to 50 per cent of the FEI’s annual commercial revenue.
“You think of the major events around the world, and it is our branding that you see,” says Baumgartner, explaining why the brand has pursued such a level of dominance in the sport. “And that is of course a deliberate move on our part. We see the demographics we can access as a luxury brand, the global market we have access to, the fact that it is a sport that is enjoyed equally by men and women. There are no other sports that give us this platform.”
While Longines has partnerships across other sports – alpine skiing, archery and gymnastics among them – the majority of its sponsorship spend is in the equestrian and horse racing space. Rather than spreading itself thin across more sports, Baumgartner says the aim is to segment the audience within equestrian disciplines as much as possible and use its profile to address multiple demographics who are likely to buy an expensive luxury product.
“There are two key things we look for, in all our sponsorships really, but that equestrian sports really deliver for us,” he says. “One is that it provides a service that is directly linked to our products: keeping time. We deliver time-keeping services and are able to show off the accuracy and reliability of our watches, which is very important in this sport.
“The other is around the lifestyle image of horse racing. The core values that it expresses, the environment it takes place in. If you look at the races, there is a wide and broad range of people who have a keen interest and go to events for different reasons. There are people who are true racegoers, with a strong expertise and passion for the sports.
“But you also have younger people going to the races just to be entertained, have a good time – and then it is about, ‘which watch should I wear to go along with the suit or dress I’m wearing’, and that’s a decision we want to be part of. We want people to choose Longines when they are going to the races.”
The gender equality of equestrianism – both in the competitors and the audience – also appeals to Longines. Baumgartner says the company is “unique among watch brands” in that it has a gender-balanced collection and sells almost equally to both men and women. “To maintain that advantage, we need to have communications platforms and partnerships that enable us to reach out to an engage with male and female audiences equally.”
By spreading its investment across the sport, Baumgartner says that not only does Longines reinforce its brand connection to the sport in general, but it also gets closer to those multiple audiences that follow it. Its strategy is dependent on segmenting audiences across events and promoting the right products to the right demographics.
“It is not the case that there is a single type of person who comes to horse racing,” he says. “It’s people with different specific interests and perspectives. By being across the sport in the way that we are, we’re able to activate internationally, nationally and locally, depending on what the event is and who we are trying to engage with in each case.
“The primary KPI is always around brand awareness, and that’s about creating a link to the products, because we know that even if the branding is strong on site, and on TV, or social media, we still need to make sure people know what Longines is about. So we need to bring them to the platforms where they can learn more about our products and the history of the brand. How we do that differs depending on the event in question.”
He gives the example of the brand’s key partnership with the FEI, which includes title sponsorship of events such as the Longines Jumping World Cup and Longines Nations Cup Series, each of which comprise a number of events throughout the calendar and around the world each year.
“They tend to appeal more to a core equestrian audience, and we activate those on a more local basis, but they also give us a good international spread” he says. “We are talking to people on-site, and some on the international broadcast, but it’s really about having that point of contact with the products themselves for the core equestrian audience.”
At internationally-renowned events like Royal Ascot or the Kentucky Derby, on the other hand, Longines’ focus is on the guest experience and engaging a more casual and younger demographic, building the link between the tradition and prestige of the events and the brand itself.
“There’s nothing else anywhere in the world that can compare with being at Royal Ascot,” Baumgartner says. “It’s such an authentic and traditional event. As an experience, it’s not only about going to the races; it’s about dressing up, it’s about the presence of the Royal family. There we are focusing much more on the experience, both for the audience already there and especially for the guests we bring along as part of our hospitality offering. It’s about those money-can’t-buy experiences, giving people access to places they wouldn’t usually get to see.
“But at events like Ascot and also the Kentucky Derby or the Dubai World Cup, there are also multiple thousands of people around the racetrack. So we don’t focus only on our guests, there is a huge in-built audience – at events on three different continents. Then there is a growing TV and digital audience.”
Increasingly at meets like Ascot, a significant part of the activation is on social channels. In 2018, Longines became an official partner of Ascot Racecourse, as well as the official timekeeper of Royal Ascot itself, which “gives us a more permanent presence at the course, and means our branding is more visible in international broadcasts and on social media”, says Baumgartner. “We try to make the experience that people have at the track available as much as we can on our digital platforms as well, because only a limited number of people get to experience the real thing every year.
“If we think about that in connection with the FEI disciplines we sponsor as well, it really enables us to reach out to so many different audiences and demographics. It’s international, it’s in-person, it’s over broadcast. It’s so many touchpoints for fans of horse racing with our brand. They come from the same passion and the same commitment to equestrian sport, but by being across the sport in such a comprehensive way, we have a platform to talk with so many different audiences.”