The Business of sport: How the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open transcends beyond sport

Dubai Duty Free Irish OpenColm McLoughlin, vice-chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free, presents Rory McIlroy with his trophy following victory at the 2016 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at The K Club

When the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open rolls into the picturesque setting of Portstewart Golf Club in early July there will be much more to the tournament than just the entertainment provided by the athletes on show.

The Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, hosted by the Rory Foundation, brings with it the allure of success created by a business that has quickly elevated itself to one of the most successful in the world. From first-year sales of US$20 million upon its foundation in 1983, the company recorded a sales turnover of US$1.85 billion last year, making Dubai Duty Free the No.1 single airport retail operation in the world in terms of turnover. On average there are a massive 74,000 transactions are recorded per day, across Dubai International Airport and Al Maktoum International in Dubai South.

Dubai Duty Free employ over 6,000 people globally, and the operation has consistently raised the benchmark for airport retailing and it continues to grow. Dubai Duty Free currently occupies 34,000  square metres of retail space at Dubai International Airport, including the recently opened Concourse D. The new Concourse is a modern, state-of-the-art airside facility that can serve up to 100 international airlines and 18 million passengers annually and is reached via an elevated rail system. Concourse D takes Dubai Duty Free to an all new level, with a bright and spacious customer-friendly retail space centrally located close to a range of restaurants and the departure gates.

Whatever Dubai Duty Free does, there seems to be a large amount of success that comes with it. The two previous competitions Dubai Duty Free Irish Open tournaments have been held at Royal County Down and The K Club were a resounding successes, and the increase in the prize money has reflected that by rising from €2.5 million in 2015 to €4 million in 2016, while this year’s fund will reach US$7 million as the tournament becomes part of the Rolex Series. It has not just become one of the richest tournaments on the European Tour, but one of the most entertaining and well attended over the past two years. Over 100,000 fans flocked towards Royal County Down to witness Søren Kjeldsen win the 2015 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open following a dramatic three-way playoff, while Rory McIlroy – hosting the tournament through the Rory Foundation – was one of the famed competition’s most popular ever winners at The K Club last May.

Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free, has outlined what the tournament means to him and his business. “We are delighted to be continuing our title sponsorship of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open in Portstewart Golf Club once again this year, and after two fantastic years we are certain that we will see another epic sporting encounter in north Antrim. Portstewart Golf Club is a wonderful links course that will really test the skill and mentality of the players, so with all things combined we are anticipating a brilliant event.”

The pulling power of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open has seen the attendance figures soar in recent years, with the four-day event in Kildare attracting more than 25,000 spectators on the final day in 2016, while it was a sell-out the previous year in Co. Down.

The Dubai Duty Free Irish Open was played live through television screens in 450 million homes all around the world last year as Rory McIlroy landed his first ever title on home soil. Tickets for the 18th grandstand at Portstewart have already sold out ahead of this year’s tournament, exemplifying the anticipation of what is to come in Antrim.

There will be a huge amount of business generated in the local area due to the lure of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, and popular tourist destinations such as the Giant’s Causeway, the Bushmills Distillery and the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge are all set to attract more visitors than normal during the four-day event.

It is not just golf that Dubai Duty Free takes a huge interest in, with their sponsorship of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby among one of the premiere sporting events in Ireland each year. They are also major sponsors of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships and Emirates Airlines Dubai Rugby 7’s.

The sponsorship of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby has been particularly successful however. Despite being one of Europe’s oldest and most prestigious horse races, it was going through a difficult spell before Dubai Duty Free came on board.  Offering a sizable purse of €1.5 million, it is now Ireland’s richest race, and will be held at the Curragh Racecourse on July 1st.

Since taking over the title sponsorship of this major European race, Dubai Duty Free has created a weekend festival of racing and social activities which include the Dubai Duty Free Golf Classic which is held at The K Club, followed by the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby Summer Ball, also held at The K Club will all proceeds going to the Jack & Jill Children’s Foundation.

Dubai Duty Free celebrated their 25th anniversary of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships earlier this year, with Great Britain’s Andy Murray beating Fernando Verdasco in the final on March 4th, while Elina Svitolina claimed the womens’ title six weeks earlier. The tournament is now a key component in the ATP and WTA tours, with $2.6 million dollars in prize money available to the male and female competitors.

Dubai Duty Free invests heavily in the events they sponsor, pushing 2.5% of their total turnover on marketing each year, most of which is dedicated to sport. They pump $65 million worth of sponsorship into the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, contributing massively to the total television and print media value of $153 million. The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships are worth more than $830 million, with Dubai Duty Free putting $271 million towards that.

Dubai Duty Free stretches its arm further than sport and turnover however, and the Dubai Duty Free Foundation is a vital part of the company’s ethos as they give back to worthy causes. It has a strong and focused Corporate and Social Responsibility programme and is actively involved in projects all over the world, many of which have a sports theme or aim to support children and the vulnerable.

The US$1.5 million Dubai Duty Free Sports Complex was constructed at Lycée Jean-Baptiste Pointe du Sable in Haiti as they helped to rebuild the country following the earthquake in 2010, while the company has also assisted in restoring eyesight to more than 800,000 people in India and helped funding the rebuilding of an entire village of houses destroyed by a typhoon that struck the Leyte province in the Philippines following a typhoon in 2013.

To date, Dubai Duty Free has received more than 550 industry awards and in 2016 alone, the operation was presented with 28 awards including the DFNI Global Awards for Travel Retail Excellence for “Global Travel Retailer of the Year” and “Airport Travel Retailer of the Year” among others. A long-time supporter of major sporting events that help to promote Dubai as a leading destination, Dubai Duty Free is proud to be the title sponsor of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.

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