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Sponsorship deal offers many synergies for both premium brands

Sponsorship deal offers many synergies for both premium brands

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Last weekend, rival Mercedes team- mates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg brought Formula One's unhappiest partnership to town, and motorsports fans all over watched eagerly for more clashes between the duo.


But as the world witnessed one rocky marriage at the Marina Bay Street Circuit, a happier one was celebrated as national carrier Singapore Airlines (SIA) made its debut as the title sponsor of the Singapore Grand Prix.


Both brands are world-famous in their own right.


Both share common values such as excellence, warm hospitality, precision engineering and safety. But as with all big corporate names, they can sometimes do with a sprucing up - and both could not have chosen a better time to do so.


The Singapore race, hailed as the crown jewel of the sport by F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, is now in its seventh edition. While it remains an attraction on the F1 calendar - combining the spectacle of fast cars and pop acts to attract 260,000 race-goers last year - competition is hotting up.


This year, the Bahrain Grand Prix marked its 10th edition by hosting the world's second night race - a sign that Singapore's formula works and others want to replicate it.


Since Singapore joined the F1 fray in 2008, other circuits added or which rejoined include Spielberg (Austria), Austin (United States) and Abu Dhabi. The Black Sea resort town of Sochi in Russia is this year's new F1 race venue. Mexico City joins next year.


The Singapore race's top foreign markets are traditionally Europe and Australia.


But today, the need to reach out to new fan bases in China, India and Indonesia is key - and something the partnership with SIA could accomplish.


Things are already taking off: As soon as the two-year sponsorship deal was announced on April 15, SIA began marketing F1 packages targeted at fan strongholds in Britain, Germany and Australia.


They range from a no-frills $2,199 package (round-trip economy air ticket, three-night stay at a non- trackside hotel and a three-day Zone 4 walkabout ticket) to a swanky $21,399 deal, which flies race-goers first class, hosts them at a high-end trackside hotel and includes admission to a hospitality suite and the exclusive Podium and Amber lounges.


All over the world, umbrella girls are an F1 staple feature. SIA's arrival will add the grace of the Singapore Girl - the face of the airline and of its hospitality.


Some 50 Singapore Girls in their distinctive kebayas accompanied the F1 drivers, sheltering them with umbrellas. This echoes how the Singapore GP broke new ground by racing at night, providing a timely, TV-friendly sight for a European audience.


Valuable publicity

APART from merchandise like F1-themed gold coins, teddy bears, aircraft models and apparel, SIA also launched, in July, a charm offensive at Canary Wharf, in London's financial district.


Visitors at the four-day event got a treat when Marussia driver Max Chilton demonstrated his skills on an F1 simulator. The public had a go as well, with the driver of the fastest lap winning a luxury trip to the Singapore GP.


As SIA's divisional vice-president of sales and marketing, Mr Foo Chai Woo, told The Straits Times: "There is a good fit between SIA and the Singapore Grand Prix. A European tourist flying to Singapore for the F1 has options to make short stopovers to places like Bali or Phuket."


He added: "As title sponsors, the deal becomes more relevant when it comes to developing markets. (It) is beneficial not just to attract new customers from countries with strong F1 cultures like the United Kingdom, Germany and Australia, (but) is useful in bringing in customers from China and Indonesia."


And it could be a win-win situation for both parties.


Last year, Emirates, Dubai's flag carrier, signed a £150 million (S$308 million) five-year sponsorship deal to be F1's global partner, allowing it to display its branding at all 19 races.


Although SIA did not invest such a colossal amount to splash its brand at all the races, it still managed to gain valuable F1 publicity with its deal in which it will sponsor one race this year and next.


It is believed to have paid in the region of $10 million to $15 million, similar to what SingTel paid for the first six editions.


SIA was quick to rev up, by last month holding a carnival called Light Up The Night, a free event to make motorsport accessible to the public. Fans were allowed into the Pit Building, where they had fun on F1 simulators and saw a supercar parade and stunt driving.


There are also plans to take the F1 car to the skies. SIA plans to paint grand prix-themed livery on its fleet next year and possibly offer more travel packages tailored for fans who want to watch the race, then hop to regional spots like Bali or Phuket.


But why stop there? The night race footage can be screened as in-flight entertainment, for example.


Sports tourism

ASSOCIATE Professor Sharon Ng, a specialist in marketing and branding at Nanyang Technological University's Nanyang Business School, noted: "F1 is an expensive sport for the well-heeled... people who are into things like Ferraris. Through the sponsorship, SIA is getting the association with this premium image. Values such as speed, excitement and coolness are transferred to SIA."


She added: "SIA is a better fit than (previous title sponsor) SingTel.


SIA is a global brand and has a broad market, while SingTel is fairly local. Fans watching F1 in Spain don't need to buy SingTel's products and services."


SIA's Singapore GP experiment could also set wheels in motion for branding Singapore as a sporting destination.


While F1 is the marquee event on the city's sporting calendar, the new Singapore Sports Hub could lend itself to partnerships with SIA - towards the national goal of marketing Singapore as a sports destination.


Next month, Japan and Brazil will play in a high-profile football friendly here. There are plans to host a Super Rugby franchise in 2016, rugby's World Cup Sevens in 2018 and possibly the Twenty20 cricket league.


A look at the numbers shows the potential of sports tourism.


The Grand Prix, which drew tourists from as many as 116 countries last year, reaped $150 million in incremental tourism receipts annually for Singapore. Allied with SIA's reach of 62 destinations in 34 countries, the figure could swell even higher.


Over three days, more than 200,000 fans will pass through the turnstiles at the Marina Bay Street Circuit.


Another 100 million will tune in on their TV sets.


Singapore's night race needs to win new fans and shout out to the world. The national carrier wants to attract more passengers. The fit between the two premium brands could not be better.

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Besides being the first night race in F1, we now also have the most ridiculous sounding name. SINGAPORE AIRLINES SINGAPORE GRAND PRIX.

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