Playing the Long Game
Sport sponsors can be a fickle breed, but not Rolex, writes Michael Ross. The luxury Swiss brand has a long and illustrious association with golf, and it’s teeing up for some talent spotting in Hong Kong
olf sponsors come and go. One only has to look at our own Hong Kong Open, the second-oldest professional sporting event in the city, to realise that. During its 56 years, the event, one of the most prestigious on the Asian Tour, has seen no fewer than a dozen different title sponsors, which is actually a relatively small number when compared to tournaments of a similar vintage.
Corporations and brands get involved in golf for a multitude of reasons, but few are ever in it for the long haul. There are exceptions, of course, but a great many sponsors seem to see golf as a passing fad and dip their toe into the proverbial golfing water hazard for a quick stint before retreating to the safe confines of the conference room, where they dream up their next marketing strategy. This, it should be said, doesn’t just apply to golf—a lot of sports that aren’t considered mainstream are similarly affected. But you do get the sense that many corporates—especially banks and other financial institutions—enter into twoor three-year agreements with their exit plan already in place.
Fortunately, not all companies are of a similar mind. Indeed, it is in Switzerland, a country not traditionally known for its love of the game, where we find a luxury watch brand whose affinity with golf for nearly half a century has helped revolutionise the sponsorship industry: Rolex.
In 1967, Arnold Palmer became a Rolex ambassador—or testimonee, as the brand prefers—marking the start of Rolex’s association with golf, which came just seven years after the death of founder Hans Wilsdorf. It’s not known if Wilsdorf ever picked up a club—he may have encountered