The world’s most valuable horserace, the $20 million Saudi Cup, has been staged in a blaze of glory 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. IVM’s flexibility enabled it to adapt to the organisational demands of the event and bring in top professionals to manage a variety of workstreams. IVM became the ‘engine room’ of the Saudi Cup.

IVM’s senior marketing associate, Tim Hymans, took the lead in the marketing of the world’s richest race. He explained how the IVM-initiated marketing drive ensured that thousands of people flooded through the gates over the two race days. He said: “Saudi Arabia has a very strong affinity to the horse, but a lot of people here don’t really understand about horse racing on a global basis. Our strategy was very much about educating, entertaining and involving those people. 

“We linked it in with Vision 2030 and how horse racing can contribute to the GDP of Saudi Arabia from veterinary, breeding or jockey programmes to growing specialist turf in an arid desert – anything directly related to horse racing. This is a home-grown sport. It’s full of event firsts; It’s the first time a horse has raced on grass; the first time women have competed in the country with men on an equal footing; it’s also the first time a prize has ever reached $20 million. There are a lot of big event firsts happening here. It’s a statement because this is also Saudi Arabia’s own product.”

Tim Hymans

Marketing blitz

Hymans said the IVM strategy was to work across a number of different channels to market the event. “We’ve done a blitz across pretty much every channel.  We’ve sent 5.5 million SMSs, a million WhatsApps, a million emails to various databases. We have been running individual PR programmes focused around different workstreams such as quarantine, fashion etc. We have been in shopping malls where we’ve been handing out flyers telling people to get involved. 

“We’ve done TV advertising, outdoor advertising at places like the airport. We have run all these different marketing channels and we’ve combined it with a very heavy technological focus including paid search, pay-per-click, SEO alignment and buying backlinks. At the same time, whether we’re in a shopping mall or we’re running an event, we’re identifying that specific campaign with UTM links that allow us to identify where, when and how successful the marketing is being.

“One of the initiatives we’ve been running is a campaign getting school children to design rugs that were put on the winners of three races on the day. That created excitement and helped to get children involved. Fashion is also extremely important in Saudi Arabia, so we launched a fashion competition with Princess Nourah Bint Abdul Rahman University where we asked the students to design some headdresses to go with an outfit. We asked the students to bring them to the track and we ran a fashion show on Cup Day.”

One of the winners’ rugs designed by schoolchildren

Hymans said that for marketing, one of the biggest issues was around translation. “The Arabic that they use locally for all of the marketing is not the Arabic that the government uses in an official capacity. We’ve put in a structure that allows us to translate and get things approved in a very quick and efficient way because the people who have to approve it come at the very highest level.”

Building for the future

He said the first year of the event is about legacy and building for the future. “It’s been a very short, sharp exposure to try and get things going. Typically, I would have done this over a minimum of 12 months, or possibly 18 months, but we’ve done it in three. We’ve been able to be agile and adapt and change as quickly as possible and that reflects across everything. We’re strategic thinkers and operational doers at the same time. Roll your sleeves up and think creatively. We’ve adapted to the environment and done things in a different way.”

The IVM team