Greg Sproule is one of the key men behind this weekend's Capitala World Tennis Championships in Abu Dhabi. As Managing Director for the Middle East arm of global sports management company IMG, Sproule is involved in golf course development, event management and using sport to promote the region. Here he tells Emirates Business how IMG plans to grow in the UAE, how it hopes to partner with Arab athletes in the future and how it intends to cope with the challenge of the current financial crisis.
IMG opened its Middle East office three years ago, can you tell us a little about IMG's work in the region and why it is viewed as a key area for the company?
IMG's history in this region dates back to 1977, when our chairman Mark McCormack prepared a proposal to essentially develop the lifestyle and leisure business – develop tourism centred around sports. So we have a long-standing presence here. Our clients are professional golfers, professional tennis players, models and many other athletes and they have been coming through the region for a long time. We established our office in Dubai three years ago and will be opening an office in Abu Dhabi in Q1 of 2009. That is an illustration of our commitment to the region; markets that are important to us, we need to be there. The Middle East is one of our key growth areas – in every area; our athletes' representation side is significant and the event business is significant. It's important for the clients we represent, it's important for our television business, it's important in every aspect to what we are doing here.
Aside from the inaugural Capitala World Tennis Championships, which has been going on the past three days, what other projects are IMG involved with in the UAE?
In the three years we have been here, one of the things we are most proud of is the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship. It is going into its fourth year and begins in two weeks. This tennis event is also very important to us. It is the first year to get into the tennis space and to get six of the top 10 players, three of which are IMG clients – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and James Blake – is great. We are also managing the Tiger Woods Dubai.
Tiger, an IMG client, is designing his first course in the world in Dubai, Vijay Singh is designing the Wind course at Jumeirah Golf Estates, Nick Faldo redesigned the Wadi course at Emirates Golf Club, Thomas Bjorn redesigned Dubai Creek. We undertook the naming rights initiative of the Dubai Metro system, which was just announced last week and we organised the Shakira concert in 2007, so it's not only sport. It has been a very busy time for IMG.
You mentioned the World Tennis Championships is very important to you and there are rumours that next year may see a women's event also. Is that likely?
Our marching orders for now is what we have. We will enjoy the conversation should the authorities in Abu Dhabi elect to have that conversation with us. But at the end of the day, this is their event so the directives comes from them. Any other tournament or "Where the future of tennis in Abu Dhabi is heading", I would leave to them.
IMG boasts a client roster of some of the biggest names in the world: Woods, Federer and Maria Sharapova to name but three. Are there any intentions of perhaps partnering with an Arab athlete?
Not at the moment, in terms of athletes. Part of what we are exploring here is to look at all opportunities. We have to make sure it's the right match with an athlete with the services we can offer, either globally or regionally. We would definitely be interested in having that conversation at the right time. Football would be an area we would certainly explore in more detail for obvious reasons, but it has to be the right match both ways.
IMG client, tennis world No10 James Blake, told me this week that athletes must expect pay cuts in the current economic climate. How has IMG been affected and how will it battle to cope with the financial crises?
There is no question that our world has changed in the past three or four months, so it's a challenge. Globally, fortunately IMG have been through these kind of crises before – as have many people in the business community. The one thing about our company is that we are very stable, we have no debt, our clients tend to be the best athletes in the world. The cream always rises to the top in those cases. And while we know the next few years won't be as good as the past few years, we are still confident that we have a bright future. We are here to stay globally, we are in a very good financial position, a very good client roster, a very good event roster and we are sure that will see us through the challenging times ahead.
PROFILE: Greg Sproule IMG Managing Director
Greg Sproule, 45, graduated from the University of Calgary in Canada in 1987 where he studied commerce, concentrating on marketing.
Immediately after graduating, Sproule accepted an exchange placement in South Korea, where he worked for the largest consumer market research company in the country, collaborating with the likes of Pepsi and Kodak. When his placement in Korea ended a year later he moved to Hong Kong where his focus changed to industrial market research.
He joined IMG in 1994 in Singapore and remained there for more than 10 years. He relocated to the Dubai office three years ago and is married with two children.
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