Dubai Duty Free chief executive Colm McLoughlin has underlined his company’s commitment as title sponsor to both the Irish Open and Derby by expressing his wish to see the prize money for both events increase during its involvement.
Irishman McLoughlin, 76, yesterday revealed the duty free operator was extending its title sponsorship of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby for another five years while emphasising his philosophy that the bigger the prize fund the greater the publicity and by extension the better value for sponsors.
The company has been title sponsor of the Irish Open since 2015, extending its deal with the European Tour last year through to 2020 with an option for two more years after that.
Since getting involved in conjunction with the original tournament host and coinciding with the Irish Open’s inclusion on the Tour’s Rolex Series of events, the prize fund has increased from €2m in 2014 to its current level of €7m and McLoughlin said he would be happy to stay involved as a sponsor if the prize money was increased still more.
“Part of our condition (of title sponsorship) when we tried it at the beginning was if this Rolex Series came about that we would be part of it, and I’m very happy about that,” McLoughlin said.
“This bit of it is none of my business but I would see the prize fund for the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open going up. That depends a lot on the discussions ongoing at the moment between the European Tour and Rolex. The Rolex chairman is here this week and they’re having chats.”
Asked if his company would be happy to stay on board if the Irish Open remained a Rolex Series event and the prize fund increased to $10m, McLoughlin replied: “Yes, would be the answer.
“We spend 2.5 per cent of our top line on promotions, we own two tennis tournaments, won on the WTA Tour and the ATP and the media value of that for Dubai last year was assessed as $980m. Our ambition for the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open golf is that it gets up near that figure.
“We’re on board this year and next year, and we’ve an option for 2021 and 2022. Media value for us from this was valued last year in excess of €160m and that’s very successful for Dubai Duty Free.”
Dubai Duty Free’s current sponsorship deal with the Irish Derby, won last weekend by Aidan O’Brien’s Sovereign at the Curragh was up this year but McLoughlin added: “We’ve done 12 very successful years. We’re committed to five more years. The prize money is €1.5m and we can see that rising.
“I think these things have to go up so I say yes, it will go up.”
Given the success of this week’s event at Lahinch, Galway native McLoughlin said he would be happy for the Co. Clare links to be part of an Irish Open rotation of host courses but he added that he would like to see parkland courses also considered by the Tour, though restricting it to only links as part of a pre-Open Championship swing was not a deal breaker.
If McLoughlin knows where the Irish Open is heading next year he was not letting on, though he is satisfied with the tournament’s place in the schedule, two weeks out from The Open.
“We’re very happy with it,” he said, “six of the (world’s) top 30 are here”.
As for the 2020 venue, McLoughlin added: “Not decided yet. We’ve met the European Tour this week. They’ve a shortlist of options. They are talking to clubs, they have a rating system and they’ll come to us with a recommendation.”
With Paul McGinley delivering a successful 2019 tournament at Lahinch this week in his role as host, McCloughlin confirmed that Padraig Harrington was next in line to take on the duties, although his Ryder Cup captaincy in 2020 may factor against that order of succession and it has yet to be confirmed.
Then there was the absence of original host Rory McIlroy from this year’s edition, Ireland’s world number three preferring to play the week before The Open at Portrush in next week’s Scottish Open. McLoughlin said there was no-ill will towards the man who had helped convince him to get involved as title sponsor in time for the first of the Rory Foundation’s four hostings of the Irish Open at Royal County Down in 2014.
“It’s disappointing that he isn’t here but I have no bad blood about it,” the Dubai Duty Free executive vice chairman and CEO said. “Rory owes nothing to the tournament.
“He has done a lot of work for it at the beginning and he was very instrumental in reinvigorating it with Dubai Duty Free. It was dying a little bit if you like, and prize money is now €7m.
“I’m happy with the input of Rory McIlroy. I’m sure he will play again in the future but I understand fully that he’s getting his career in order and I understand fully his schedule so I’m not in any way angry about it. The tournament was dying when he got involved. I’m sure he’ll play again in the Irish Open soon.”