UBS made right decision to come back, says head of sponsorship
Bjorn Waespe says stakeholders are keen to see the tournament rise to another level
The sun shone, the crowds milled around fairways and greens and not even the mid-tournament loss of star attraction Dustin Johnson could dilute the enthusiasm of returning sponsors as they look forward to more years of prosperity for the UBS Hong Kong Open.
Bjorn Waespe, managing director of UBS brand activation, sponsorship and events, said the success of this year’s tournament justified the Swiss investment bank’s decision to return as title sponsor after a two-year hiatus.
“I was personally involved in this event since it started in 2005,” said Waespe. “ Thursday was already a great crowd, we got 10,000 people thanks to free admission and that continued for the entire week. We have seen that the tournament has really evolved.
“The Hong Kong Golf Club have given us a home on the fairway to entertain people and the public. It’s clearly a couple of steps up and we are very proud to be part of it.”
The US$2 million European Tour and Asian Tour tournament featured a strong line-up that included former US Open winner Justin Rose, American star Dustin Johnson, Padraig Harrington, four-time winner Miguel Angel Jimenez and a host of top Asian golfers such as India’s Anirban Lahiri and Thai Thongchai Jaidee.
UBS first came in as title sponsor in 2005 but left after 2012 and for two years the tournament hobbled along, using its reputation as the oldest professional sporting event in Hong Kong as crutches.
The decision of the government’s Mega Events Fund to provide HK$15 million in funding to the Hong Kong Open helped to spark its revival.
“The government played an absolutely key role,” said Waespe. “When the European Tour told us how much the government wanted to take the tournament to a different level, that was the moment for us to say, let’s come back.”
Waspe said the company has signed a “multi-event” deal to continue sponsoring the tournament, without going into detail.
When asked if UBS would be there next year, he said: “Yes, definitely.” And the year after? “We have every intention to continue.”
One of the features of this year’s tournament is that despite losing Johnson, Jimenez and three-time major champion Harrington at the halfway cut, star value remained in the form of Rose, former PGA Championship winner Yang Yong-eun, Lahiri and Thongchai, among others.
Rose’s battle with Dane Bjerregaard also provided for thrilling golf over the last two days.
“It’s one of the biggest compliments you can give a tournament. We had some real star players and sure there were disappointments but that is the nature of golf. But the tournament didn’t lose its attraction at all,” said Waespe.
“For me, I think Anirban Lahiri is one of the biggest attractions. We have Thongchai Jaidee and all the guys our there, with Justin Rose and this young Danish guy coming up. We have a good mixture. The quality of the field is important.”
Waespe said the company’s global sponsorship platforms revolve around Formula One, contemporary art and golf via the Hong Kong Open. One of the reasons they decided to recommit to Hong Kong was because the tournament’s prestige was a perfect fit for their brand.
“We wanted to align our sponsorship according to our global themes, which was still Formula One and contemporary art,” said Waespe on their reasons for returning.
“And for a moment we realised how much we missed the Hong Kong Open. Hong Kong is still important for our whole business, not only Asia.
“We had good conversations with the Hong Kong Golf Club and the European Tour and definitely it was the right decision to come back.”