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As a luxury watch brand, TAG Heuer takes great pride in the fact that they are inspired by sport. Established in 1860, it is one of the oldest Swiss watch companies in the world, and its development over the years has been linked with its involvement in the sporting arena.

Of all sports, TAG Heuer has become synonymous with motorsport. They were timekeepers of Formula One for several years, had a great partnership with Ferrari in the second half of the 20th century and have one of the longest marketing partnerships in F1 in the form of their 30-year-long sponsorship of McLaren.

They were also one of the companies involved with the recently released movie Rush, based on the rivalry between Niki Lauda and James Hunt. Luc Decroix, 38, is TAG Heuer’s General Manager in the Middle East, Turkey and South Africa.

Joy Chakravarty recently spoke to the Bordeaux FC fan about their various sporting relationships, including their recently announced sponsorship of the UAE Desert Challenge, the movie Rush and the incredible happenings a few weeks ago when they became part of one of the greatest comebacks in sporting history.

Q You said you joined TAG Heuer some 12 years ago only because they supported motorsports?

A That’s true. One of the reasons why I joined TAG Heuer is because they were the timekeepers of Formula One. That is how I came to know about the company.

At that time I was young and the watch was too expensive for me, so it was never in my thought. But when I saw what they were doing with sports, I sent them my CV thinking it would be nice to work with a company that is so involved with motorsport.

Sport seems to be in the DNA of TAG Heuer?

Well… Heuer was formed in 1860 in Switzerland by Edouard Heuer. In the beginning, we were not producing commercial watches, but dashboard chronographs and timing instruments.

We were involved with sports from very early on. Our split second pocket chronographers were used in the 1920 Antwerp Olympic Games for timekeeping. Early in the 20th century, we were even the timekeepers for greyhound racing in London. We always had our roots in sports.

We have become a more luxury brand now, but still, the inspiration is sport.

Let’s talk about TAG’s association with sport, starting with your most recent sponsorship of the UAE Desert Rally Championship.

This is the first year of the Championship and so we have kept things a bit low key. It’s just four stages this year. The idea came from Mohammed Ben Sulayem, who is also one of our brand ambassadors and a legend in rallying in the region. He had quite a few people asking him to organise a UAE Championship.

It is surprising that given the kind of passion people in the UAE have for rallying, there is no UAE championship. He contacted us and enquired about our interest, and we were keen.

What do you want to achieve from this sponsorship of yours?

Of course, we are a commercial company, so our aim is to make more sales from our association. But let me put it this way, the stronger motorosports is in any country, the stronger TAG Heuer will be over there.

In most countries, if you ask nine out of 10 people which watch brand they associate with motorsport, they will probably say TAG Heuer. It is like planes and Brietling and golf and Rolex.

So, what we are trying to do, along with Ben Sulayem, is develop motorsport activities in the country. We have also been partners of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge for several years now. We are also one of the main sponsors of Dubai Autodrome and are sponsoring the Skydive Dubai Falcon team.

These may not be massive sponsorships, but the goal is to create a buzz around the local motorsport activities. The Skydive Dubai is 100 per cent Emirati team, which is something that delights us. We would like to see local talent developing, and we are trying to help in that process.

Our contribution to this whole process is very modest, but we strongly believe that big oceans are build out of small drops of water.

You are also partners of McLaren. So how big is it for you when F1 comes to the UAE for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix?

First of all, I must say that for Abu Dhabi to organize the F1 grand prix is a big thing. It’s a huge investment for the country and it does put them on the map. And if I am correct, F1 is the third or fourth most watched sporting event in the world. So, there is no doubt it is massive.

But if you look at F1 today, there are more than 10 watch brands associated with the sport. It is more a marketing thing than anything else. After TAG Heuer left, they did not need an external timekeeper for 3-4 years.

But when we started in the 1960s, we really worked hand in hand with Ferrari to develop timekeeping tools for the F1 cars. At that time, it was more of a technological partnership, rather than being a completely marketing partnership.

So, we are very proud of the history TAG Heuer has with motorsport, which nobody can take away from us. Anybody can become the timekeeper, but they cannot give what we have given to F1 and to motorsports.

All the timekeeping that you now have in the sport, has actually been developed by us through the 60s and 70s.

Your partnership with McLaren is one of the longest in F1 history. What’s the story with that?

Heuer was brought over by TAG in 1985. The TAG Group was a Saudi-French conglomerate and they were at that time also the owners of McLaren. So, that was the time our partnership started, and even though TAG no longer own McLaren, the partnership has continued and we have stayed loyal to them.

And TAG was also involved with the movie Rush?

We were partners of the movie. It is about the intense rivalry that was there in the 60s and 70s between Niki Lauda and James Hunt. We were part of Ferrari and so was Lauda and we thought the story of their rivalry, which is one of the greatest rivalries in sport, would really interest even today’s audience.

TAG Heuer was one of the biggest sponsors of Team Oracle in the Americas Cup this year. And what happened in San Francisco was unprecedented. Have you done any study on the impact Oracle’s win has had on the brand?

This year, the Americas Cup has been crazy. For those who don’t know the story, Team Oracle came back to beat Emirates Team New Zealand to retain the cup with a 9-8 win despite being 1-8 down.

We haven’t got any reports yet, but let me tell you this. All our advertising carry taglines, or messages, like ‘Success is a mind game’, ‘Don’t crack under pressure’, ‘Never give up’ or ‘What are you made of?’, and what Oracle did this year is exactly what we have been trying to portray TAG Heuer as in all our marketing communications.

They have demonstrated our philosophy on the ground. They completely believed that until you are dead, you still have a chance. I think the Americas Cup this year, with all its changes and innovations, was good for everybody involved, but specially good for us.

Maria Sharapova is your brand ambassador, but you don’t really do too much with tennis?

This is not the first time we have been involved with tennis. Boris Becker in the 90s was also our ambassador. We are not as involved in tennis as we are with motorsports, but we do individual sponsorships and we think Sharapova is one of the most unique tennis players of this generation.

What we like with her was that she was the youngest player to win Wimbledon and she came up and succeeded despite heavy odds. Same can be said about our association with Tiger Woods. He is no longer our ambassador, but we thought he was just amazing for sport, breaking so many stereotypes associated with golf and obviously, a great, great player.

Again, we don’t do too many things with golf, but we were Tiger’s sponsor for many years. When we do individual sponsorships, we look for unique personalities and Sharapova is that.

 

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