By  on April 25, 1994

NEW YORK -- In the multi-billion dollar business that sports represent today, sponsorships have become more than a matter of a name tacked up on a timer, as the experiences of several accessories firms prove.

Citizen, Tag Heuer and SMH -- the parent company of Omega, Longines and Swatch -- and Serengeti Eyewear are just a few companies that have turned their sporting event involvements into image-making opportunities. Though none of the firms would reveal how much they spent annually on sponsorships, they all cited their participation in sports as key in their marketing schemes.

Here, a look at how each of the four firms makes the most of the game.

CITIZEN

"We really try to focus on the 'crown jewel' events, rather than going for huge productions such as the Olympics." That's the philosophy behind this Lyndhurst, N.J., watchmaker's approach to sports, according to Peter Nicholson, vice president of advertising and marketing services.

In choosing a particular event, Nicholson said, the company "tries to reach a broad cross-section of consumers, but with a skew toward the more upscale consumer."

The chief events that Citizen has been involved with are the U.S. Open tennis tournament, for which it holds a three-year contract that runs through 1995; figure skating's World Championships, which its parent company in Tokyo handled earlier this year; and the America's Cup, the most famous of all yacht races, in 1992 and again in 1995.

In fact, Citizen and luxury goods firm Louis Vuitton will sponsor segments of the America's Cup, with the former supporting the defender selection races leg and the latter, the challenger races. Citizen will also produce the official watch for the 1995 America's Cup, a line it's calling the Noblia 12 Meter line.

"Louis Vuitton is one of the most successful luxury names in the world, and combined with our Noblia 12 Meter collection, we have a perfect fit for a prestigious event such as the America's Cup," said Laurence Grunstein, president of Citizen.

What's important when the company looks for an event to sponsor, Nicholson said, is a combination of image-building and reinforcement and opportunities for merchandising and interacting with the public. The sponsorships can also work as incentives."For the 1992 America's Cup, we took 500 retail sales associates out to San Diego to see a race, see the sights and get to know more about us as a company," Nicholson said. "We feel that things like this can really make a difference when a customer approaches a sales associate in a store and asks for recommendations on watches."

TAG HEUER

This Switzerland-based watch firm, which was founded in 1860, first entered into the sporting arena as an official timer for the Olympic games in the late Twenties. Because the company's own product lines have a sporty look and are in many cases designed for sportsman, getting into sponsorship has been a natural process.

"We live sports inside and out," said Carol Shainswit, director of marketing for Tag Heuer's U.S. division in Springfield, N.J. "And we go for an upscale, sporty and high tech orientation both in what we make and what we sponsor."

An international focus -- concentrating on activities that are popular worldwide rather than just in the U.S. -- is also important, Shainswit noted. With those images in mind, the company has concentrated on boating events, Formula One car racing and the North American Ski Cup.

Sponsorship involves more than just supplying the timers, Shainswit pointed out. Tag Heuer looks to get involved on as many levels as possible to get the full marketing value out of an event.

"We target our retail accounts as well as the general public," she noted.

At a skiing event several months ago in Vail, for instance, "we invited watch retailers out to entertain them, reinforce our brand image and run educational programs." The company also did a special watch drawing and headband giveaway at a local fine jewelry retailer during the same event.

SMH

Of all the SMH brands, Omega's standing in sporting events goes back the furthest, to the 1932 Olympics all the way to the most recent Olympiad (the only Games it missed were Barcelona in 1992.) For the upcoming 1996 games in Atlanta, though, SMH is trying out one of its other well-known names: Swatch."Swatch is a lifestyle watch, and part of the lifestyle message there is sports," said Raymond Zeitoun, president and chief executive officer of SMH U.S. Inc., the Swiss-based conglomerate's U.S. division.

"As a sponsor, Swatch has been involved in wind surfing, tennis and volleyball competitions," Zeitoun added. "But having the name at the Olympics reinforces the image of the Swatch watch as a reliable, accurate timekeeper and not just a fashion item."

The partnership that Swatch has formed with the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) and the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG) includes a licensing agreement through which Swatch will produce a line of Olympics watches.

The first collection is due out at this May's accessories market, and models in the debut group will feature motifs from past Olympiads. Royalty fees that the IOC and ACOG get from sales of the watches will go toward the supporting the Games.

To introduce the line to the market, Swatch will host a market-week gala here, featuring Nicholas Hayek, president of Swatch, as well as Olympic athletes and celebrities.

SERENGETI EYEWEAR

One of the reasons this eyewear company is involved in sporting events is because its parent firm, Corning Inc. in Corning, N.Y., is part-owner of Watkins Glen, a local race car track. Serengeti happens to have a whole line of sunglasses called Drivers that are designed for car racing, and it has just signed up driving legend A.J. Foyt and his team to endorsement deals.

Vivian Gernand, worldwide business manager for Serengeti, said sports sponsorship is an area her firm wants to get more involved in.

"Overall, we've used sponsorships as a supplement to our marketing mix up until now, but at this point we want to make them a bigger part of our strategy," Gernand said. In addition to race driving, Serengeti has been involved in skiing, sport shooting, flying and sailing events, all sports which it makes specialized sport sunglasses for. But Gernand said as the firm increases its involvement, it will concentrate on several major areas to put its money into."Right now we're looking specifically at race driving and also possibly skiing as our anchor sports," she said.

Supporting up-and-coming athletes is also another goal in the company's plan. It currently sponsors the Serengeti/Jeep Ski Club, a national amateur competition series, and the Men's Ski Club association's rookie of the year award.

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