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Why sponsors stuck by Bahrain

NEWS STORY
25/04/2012

A rather strange story about the controversial Bahrain Grand Prix has been doing the rounds today. Authored by Reuters sports reporter Keith Weir, the piece claims that sponsors "distanced themselves from the event, saying they did not entertain clients at the Bahrain International Circuit and that the decision to race on Sunday was not theirs." The story is strange for two reasons.

Firstly, to fans watching the race there was no obvious evidence of sponsors distancing themselves - as usual their logos were on the cars and beside the track. Secondly, ironically, Reuters itself is a sponsor of Williams but there was no mention in the article of whether it entertained clients or had exposure at the Bahrain GP. In fact, the Reuters article did not quote any sponsors and only claimed that McLaren title partner Vodafone "was one of the few companies to comment on the race, saying it had sent no staff to Bahrain and had set out its concerns to McLaren."

However, whilst Reuters may have failed to get on the record comments from sponsors, Pitpass' business editor Christian Sylt had no such problem. Before the race took place DHL, one of F1's biggest-paying sponsors, confirmed to him that it would be at the race in force.

"As global logistics partner to F1 we will be activating at the Bahrain Grand Prix and we have clients flying in from around the region to attend the race," said a DHL spokesperson adding that "corporate boxes [for this year's race] sold out within the first couple of weeks of them being offered." It seems to fly in the face of Reuters' claim that "although firms said little publicly, executives were clearly loathe to be seen at the track."

DHL pays around £6.3m annually for the right to be known as F1's official logistics partner and it spends millions more every year activating its sponsorship which involves promoting it to clients and the public. It cost DHL an additional sum of around £1m to have its advertising hoardings around the track. DHL gained an estimated £1.5m in exposure from its brand appearing on television during the 2010 race which was watched by 527m people worldwide.

The numbers are being crunched now about how much money sponsors made from this year's race but the reason they were there isn't just financial as Zak Brown, one of F1's top sponsorship agents told Sylt.

Brown is the founder of Just Marketing, an agency which has worked with some of F1's biggest sponsors including UBS, Hilton and Johnnie Walker. "Formula 1 is a global sport covering nine months of the year, so sponsors' commitments tend to reflect that," says Brown adding that "sponsors are passengers to a large extent and have to let the sport take the lead." Presumably this applies to Reuters itself too but you won't find that out from its article which simply states "Thomson Reuters, parent company of Reuters, is a sponsor of the Williams Formula One team. A spokesman declined to comment." Well there you have it.

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