Infront sets up Qatari joint venture as agencies eye sports marketing growth

Infront Sports & Media has agreed a joint venture with Qatari firm Aspire Katara Investment (AKI), which will provide sports marketing services for Qatar and the GCC, under the banner 'creating value for domestic sport'.

Infront Sports & Media has agreed a joint venture with Qatari firm Aspire Katara Investment (AKI), which will provide sports marketing services for Qatar and the GCC, under the banner 'creating value for domestic sport'.

Infront chief executive Philippe Blatter announced the partnership alongside Sheikh Mohammed Bin Hamad Al-Thani, AKI's chief executive, in Doha on Monday, ahead of the annual Doha Goals conference.

The collaboration has been a year in the making and follows the signing of a memorandum of understanding at last year's Doha Goals event. Aspire runs Qatari sports institute Aspire Academy, orthopaedic and sports medicine hospital Aspetar and Aspire Logostics, which operates the Aspire Zone, the world-class training and event facility where Doha Goals is being staged this week.

"It's a major step - and a major growth - into a new market", Blatter said of a project which could be the first of several tie-ups between global agencies and local companies in the region in the coming years.

The newly-created AspireInfront's first project will be the organisation of European soccer champions Bayern Munich's winter training camp in Doha between 5th and 14th January.

Infront executive Thomas Lessenich will move to Doha to head up the joint venture, which will focus on further developing regional sports, attracting major events, strengthening the regional sports platform and providing best practice for local talent to develop the sports marketing industry in Qatar and surrounding countries.

"They have clearly a number of pillars that they are working on and one of those is sports," Lessenich said of Qatar.

"Knowing the government is fully behind developing sports here, I think the potential is, first of all, enormous. I think they have proven they can deliver big events. Looking forward, if you talk to people here I think they say they have about 40 world championships or big sports events taking place here - they want to take that to 50, so already the calendar is quite full. You need to find a country where such opportunities are."

Lessenich told SportsPro he is optimistic that AspireInfront will be able to add value to the raft of major international events, led by the 2022 Fifa World Cup, coming into the region as well as local clubs, leagues and federations.

"With many of those federations and sports, we do have existing expertise," Lessenich said, citing the upcoming swimming, handball and cycling world championships in Qatar over the next three years. "We believe we can offer certain services to an organising committee help them professionally deliver such tournaments."

"At the moment, maybe many sponsors here are not yet capitalising on their involvement. They maybe just use their logo on a board and I think they can do much more than that and that we can help the sponsors, but also at the same time help the event and connect them better to the spectators - to get more people involved in a tournament."

He added: "The [local] clubs, and even the federations, need to start to engage more with the spectators. They need to create a fanbase and at the moment fan loyalty is not being taken into account. I think that's certainly something where we would like to see if we could contribute something."

The model underpinning the new AspireInfront mirrors the rash of joint ventures recently set up between established global agencies and local companies in other new and emerging markets, particularly Brazil, which have followed the awarding of so-called mega-events such as the Olympic Games and Fifa World Cup.

Another sports marketing giant, IMG, is also laying down more substantial roots in Qatar, the host country of the 2022 World Cup.

IMG, which works with the local organising committee for Qatar 2022, is an institutional partner of the new Josoor Institute, a centre of excellence designed to help the development of Qatar's sports industry. The initiative will be formally launched in Doha on Tuesday.

Infront's Lessenich, however, wouldn't be drawn on whether he expected other agencies to follow suit and set up more permanent arrangements in the region. "I can't speak for any other agency," he said. "I can only say that Infront has a history and heritage in developing partnerships in markets and they've all been successful. In some markets, we went without a partner because we felt we could build a structure on our own and there are other markets where we identified the right partner who we believed could accelerate the growth for both entities.

"With the brand we are partnering here with, you cannot get any more powerful brand with regards to sports here in Qatar or even beyond," he added.

"I've been extremely impressed. It's not that Infront believes we can bring only know-how here, I know that we can benefit extremely well from know-how that Aspire has developed already in event organisation and developing sports.

"I wouldn't call it a default mechanism that anybody goes into a country and partners with somebody, I think you need to analyse the market, decide whether you want or need a partner and then see if there is the right partner. In this particular case, we felt a partner would be good and we identified the right partner and I think we have now an extremely powerful force for making happen what we want to achieve."