Sponsorship During a Global Pandemic at Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club
Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club counts a number of high-profile sponsors as key partners, including Rolex as the Official Timepiece, Life Fitness as the Official Health and Fitness Partner, Sail Racing as the Official Clothing Partner and Regal Hong Kong Hotel as the Official Hotel Partner. Additionally, the Club offers tiered sponsorships for events, regattas and media partnerships and enjoys many longstanding relationships with global corporate entities.
COVID-19 has affected the world of sports and the many ways businesses operate within it. From postponing major global sporting events like the Olympics, to brands re-thinking their marketing strategies, it is an ever-shifting environment.
It has truly been an unprecedented time, with the effects of the global pandemic affecting each country in its own unique way. In Hong Kong, government restrictions have had differing impacts on sports. On the one hand, we have seen the cancellations of key events such as the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens, Longines Masters and Hong Kong Marathon. Local community sports have mostly been ‘play on’, despite a few limitations such as no spectators or no availability of the usual amenities.
From the point of view of Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club, we’ve been fortunate in comparison to have only had a few regattas affected over the past year. Whilst some restrictions remain in force, sailing, rowing and paddling sports can be practiced with social distance, which has allowed all of our 2021 regattas to proceed.
With regards to sponsorship, the key focuses shifted with the development of government restrictions and the resumption of regattas. Initially, the goal was to ensure all existing sponsors had consistent communication that included updates on their sponsored events and developments at the Club and how that could affect their rights. This communication has been a key part of ensuring partnership continuity; transparency made our partners feel respected and secure throughout a very rocky and uncertain time. With a lot of elements remaining out of our control, sponsors were very understanding of the situation and most were gratified to receive regular updates and to hear that members were still frequenting the Club when it felt safe.
The second shift came when restrictions began easing. The focus then moved to ensuring sponsors gained maximum exposure when some restrictions prevented benefits like prizegiving parties or limited private event capacities. This was challenging as we had to alter the way sponsors approached events and hospitality at the Club. Under the new restrictions our events were capped at 20 people—a hard pill to swallow for sponsors who normally host upwards of 100 people at any given time during their own events. Our tactic was to look at event hosting and hospitality with a wider lens while working to the new rules. I suggested to sponsors that they do multiple sessions or appointment-only sessions, and work across more hours of the day or even multiple days to ensure they still reaching the desired numbers. Though logistically this was slightly harder, it proved to be a huge success as it allowed their staff to spend more one-on-one time with guests, creating a far more personal experience.
With restrictions easing further and the pandemic under more control globally, sponsors have readopted traditional events rather than solely relying on online or digital events for their clients. With everything slowly opening, and with the Club upholding a reputation as a safe haven, we have seen an increase in interest from new sponsors looking towards the future. As a whole, the Club has always put safety at the forefront, which is reassuring to both members and sponsors and for planning events and regattas to operate in the new normal.
Communication was what help maintain partner relations throughout all changes and uncertainty, but thinking creatively and working with sponsors to understand their strategy shifts and how to apply them is what continues to secure them for the future.