Colm McLoughlin, executive vice-chairman of Dubai Duty Free, has indicated that the company’s sponsorship of golf’s Irish Open has the potential to stretch far beyond the current three-year term, which is due to expire in 2018.
Dubai Duty Free stepped in as title sponsor of the event last year on an initial one-off basis and it was announced later in 2015 that another deal, spanning three more tournaments, had been agreed for the event, which is hosted by Rory McIlroy’s foundation.
Having frequently failed to attract a commercial sponsor, the tournament has experienced a rebirth in recent times, with more of the world’s top players being lured to the event by a combination of McIlroy’s prompting and an increased prize pot.
This year’s event, which takes place at the K Club between May 19 and 22, will see €4m divvied up between a field which is again due to showcase much of the best Irish and European talent, including the newest Masters champion, Danny Willett.
No decision is likely on any tie-up post-2018 any time soon, but McLoughlin did make the point that some of Dubai Duty Free’s sports sponsorships have been long-term in nature. Among them is their backing of the Irish Derby, for instance, which will stretch to a ninth year in 2016.
Like the Irish Open, that was initiated as a one-year deal. So was the link-up with the Dubai Tennis Championships. That started out in 1993 and is still sponsored by Dubai Duty Free which has another tie-in with horse racing at Newbury that is 21-years-old.
“The Dubai Duty Free Irish Open is a good event,” he added. “The prize money is gone up. They are talking about it being one of the five premier events on the European Tour and they are talking very seriously about rotating it each year between the Republic of Ireland and the North of Ireland.
“That suits us fine. It could very well be long-term, yes, is the quick answer.”
Of more immediate concern is where the tournament is to be held next year. Expectations that it would be brought to Fermanagh’s Lough Erne Resort were confounded this week when the European Tour announced otherwise.
The resort itself released a statement suggesting that the tournament was being pointed away from parkland courses and towards links golf. McLoughlin said that Dubai Duty Free have some input into the venue, but that it is far from the loudest voice in the room.
Portstewart in Derry is believed to be under consideration.
“I have no idea where it is going to be held next year. We have all read about it not being held in Lough Erne. I do expect that when a decision needs to be made that the European Tour officials will speak to us about it, but I don’t pretend that we have an 80% say or anything like that.
“From a sponsors’ point of view, their way of looking at it would be, for example, ‘oh, I have never heard of this course. We don’t want to sponsor it at all’. But that would not be our attitude. We’d see the European Tour as selecting where they think is the best place.”
“Where crowds are facilitated is good. Access to the course from the point of view of accommodation and all that sort of stuff with patrons is a good consideration. I’m very happy it is in the K Club this year as it has proven itself with the Ryder Cup 10 years ago and the effort put it.”
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