The world’s most valuable horserace, the $20 million Saudi Cup, was staged to great acclaim last week at the King Abdulaziz racecourse in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. International Venue Management (IVM) was appointed just months before the two-day extravaganza to work across a number of disciplines, ensuring the delivery of the hugely successful event. Attracting top-level sponsors to the Saudi Cup was one of IVM’s key workstreams.

Robin Taylor is IVM’s Senior Associate – Sponsorship and the Saudi Cup’s Director of Sponsorship. He knew it was a race against time to bring partners and sponsors on board for the Saudi Cup just months ahead of the big day. He is a senior executive within the sports industry having worked at the coal face for over 20 years. He has a strong commercial and strategic background but specialises in advising rights owners on their sponsorship strategy and sales execution.

Longines was a key sponsor for the Saudi Cup

Taylor said: “I was approached in October last year. Basically, it was a blank sheet of paper. So, literally starting from scratch I had to create, develop and execute a sponsorship strategy, all within a three-and-a-half month period. The top line structure consisted of four premium partners all of whom would be entitled to the lion’s share of the rights and assets available within the Saudi Cup sponsorship portfolio. I then started working on the sales material, the target list and then began initial discussions with targets in the middle of November for an event taking place at the end of February

“The biggest challenge was timing, as normally these types of conversations would happen nine to 12 months prior to the event, but ultimately after a very intensive sales period spending most of November through to February in Saudi Arabia, I was able to secure four world class partners to the Saudi Cup. These were a combination of two major Saudi brands Saudia Airlines and stc and two major international brands – Longines and Rolls Royce/BMW.”

Robin chats with sponsors in the parade ring

Taylor said getting Longines on board was a key priority early on in the sales process as the event wanted to instantly be seen as a major player in horse racing across the world. He said: “Longines were very important for us as they gave the event instant credibility. They are the number one brand in horse racing globally. Having them on board gave the event a kitemark of quality and was the catalyst for our other partnership discussions. Longines were also the official watch and timekeeper of the Saudi Cup, providing both the timing equipment for the Saudi Cup and watches at the prizegiving for both the Longines Turf Handicap and the Saudi Cup race itself.”

Carrying the flag

Saudia, the national flag airline carrier of Saudi Arabia, signed as the second Platinum partner. Taylor said: “There was a significant travel requirement, both from an international VIP perspective, but also around the equine transportation with 61 international horses being flown from around the world to Saudi Arabia. Saudia airlines and Saudia Cargo were also fantastic marketing partners, utilising their marketing channels to promote the Saudi Cup at airports both in Riyadh and Jeddah in their lounges and at arrivals halls in Riyadh.

The Saudia lounge

National telecom company stc became the third premium partner of the Saudi Cup. Taylor said: “They were a magnificent partner. stc wholeheartedly embraced the Saudi Cup – they became sponsors of Kingdom Day (the first day became stc Kingdom Day) and they also were the title sponsors of the stc International Jockeys Challenge (The first mixed male and female jockeys challenge taking place in the world). One of the many activations we did with stc was to create an SMS message with a link to the event website that was sent to every single stc customer in Saudi Arabia and was also viewed by international visitors entering Saudi Arabia via stc’s roaming network.”

stc was a premium partner

Rolls Royce/BMW

The fourth and last premium partner to come on board was Rolls Royce/BMW through Mohamed Yousuf Naghi Motors. Taylor said: “This was a deal that was concluded within 10 days of the first meeting in Jeddah and was testament to the belief and drive of MYNM’s managing director and his team. The deal included 30 x BMW 7 series supplied for VIPs for the week of the event and post event, a Rolls Royce Cullinan and 2 x BMW’s on display at the Saudi Cup plus the creation of a Rolls Royce Hospitality Lounge which became the centrepiece/gold standard for the VIP hospitality on offer at the Saudi Cup.”

The Rolls Royce lounge

As well as the four Platinum Partners, race sponsors were also signed up for the event, including Samba Bank, Saudi Arabia’s largest corporate banking group. The group sponsored the Samba Saudi Derby, the first ever Saudi Derby to take place in Saudi Arabia.

Overall, Taylor is delighted that so much had been achieved in such a short space of time. He said: “What IVM did in terms of creating, developing and executing a sponsorship strategy for a major sporting event in this timeframe is almost unheard of. The feedback I’ve had from sponsors both at the event and afterwards has been fantastic and I cannot wait for the 2021 Saudi Cup.”

The Mohamed Yousuf Naghi Motors Cup with BMW