Taekwondo - 20 Dec 2013 - By Callum Murray in Lausanne
The World Taekwondo Federation has begun a search for a title sponsor and a presenting sponsor for its newly-launched World Taekwondo Grand Prix series after the inaugural event in the series in Manchester, England earlier this month was labelled a “huge success” this week by Chungwon Choue, the WTF’s president.
The launch of the new series followed the perceived success of the taekwondo competition at last year’s Olympic Games in London and the Manchester event was broadcast in 98 countries, while several of the sessions in the 2,000-seat venue in Manchester sold out.
Speaking at the WTF’s headquarters in Lausanne, Jean-Marie Ayer, its secretary general, told Sportcal: “The objective was to create a high-profile event. We were missing those high-profile events and we achieved a lot towards creating it. Firstly, almost all of the top-level athletes which we were able to identify through our ranking system, were invited to come, and they came.
“The second aspect was that we wanted to create, not just a competition, but a sports presentation. We had a show, which was enjoyed by the spectators. We had many more spectators than we are used to have in such events. In a city like Manchester, it’s not easy to get people just before Christmas, so we planned on the low side, with only 2,000 seats. But during certain sessions they were filled.
“We wanted also to give exposure to sponsors and to find new ways of presenting them. We had an LED display around the main mat for the semi-finals and finals. The LED display on site gives a better perspective for cameras and also allows a lot of flexibility in displaying sponsors very easily.
“We also changed the colour of the mat. We had a blue mat with a red band on the side [at the London Olympics] but now we have a black mat with a white strip. We got good feedback from the BBC [the UK’s public-service broadcaster which covered the event via its ‘red button’ digital service] which confirmed it was better, and it’s possible we’ll keep it going. It also distinguishes us from other combat sports [which mostly use coloured mats].”
The WTF has already signed a new supplier, Daedo, a maker of taekwondo equipment, which is “investing in the Grand Prix series,” Ayer said, but it is also in talks with potential new sponsors of the series, after recently hiring a new marketing manager, Christophe Troendle, previously of the FIH, field hockey’s world governing body, and the FEI, the international equestrian federation.
Ayer said that Troendle has been “working on packages and developing contacts, and I’m sure we’ll see results in 2014.”
With a budget of about $1 million, the Manchester Grand Prix event was “entirely financed” by the local organising committee, with help from UK Sport, the national sports funding and administration body, and Manchester City Council, according to Ayer. He added that the WTF had been “very flexible with the marketing rights. They [the organisers] used a big part of the marketing rights to finance the event, and we gave them priority in all sponsorship categories expect one or two. I think they made their money back. They weren’t expecting a profit and GB Taekwondo [the national governing body] weren’t out of pocket.”
For next year, Ayer said, the WTF “hopes to come up with global sponsors. We want to create a global sponsorship structure for the series, with a title sponsor, plus a presenting sponsor. Then we would share the remaining rights with the LOC and allow them to fund the event further with local sponsorships. The idea is not to have too many sponsors creating clutter, to give maximum value.”
All of the broadcasters that showed the event paid rights fees, according to Ayer, with the WTF using the Stockholm-based Spring Media agency to distribute the rights in a recently-agreed new arrangement. Ayer said: “We’re just at the start [of the relationship] and we’re trying to see how can work together. They showed an early interest in taekwondo and since we didn’t have other discussions going on we took the people with the biggest interest at this stage. So far, so good. We are building also relationships and confidence levels with broadcasters.”
Television production of the Manchester Grand Prix was in the hands of the local organising committee which appointed Horizon, the production company based in Solihull in the UK, to take on the job.
The Manchester event was the first step in creating a series, with three events pencilled in for next year and four for 2015, making a total of eight, including three ‘finals’ (of which Manchester was the first). The first event in 2014 is scheduled for July, with a total of nine cities from six countries having shown interest in hosting that and the six ensuing events. The countries are: China, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Qatar, Russia, and the UK. The WTF hopes to have allocated hosts for all seven events by the end of its council meeting in Taipei in March.
Taekwondo, an Olympic sport since 2000, was shocked to find itself at the start of this year among a group of sports that were considered by the International Olympic Committee’s executive board for exclusion from the programme for the 2020 games, and the perceived threat to its Olympic status is one of the reasons for the launch of the Grand Prix series.
Taekwondo was on a shortlist of five sports considered for exclusion, along with wrestling, modern pentathlon, field hockey and canoeing. In the event it was wrestling that was recommended for exclusion (before being voted back onto the programme by the full IOC Session in September), but the experience left all five sports badly shaken.
Ayer said: “We are first of all aware that it could happen again. What we did to overcome the threat in the previous evaluation, we will keep doing. We are working on different aspects, including the Grand Prix, developing high-level competition for athletes and sponsors, and promoting athletes. Also we will keep working on the internationalisation of our sport. We already have 205 national members and we will try to make ourselves stronger and stronger. Usually when have a world championships we have 130 countries competing, which is a very good figure. It shows that many of our members are able to compete at the highest level.
“The Grand Prix was invitation only, we took only the best 32 athletes [in each discipline] and we still had about 60 countries competing. We want to make sure we keep the figures up. Another aspect is to internationalise our management structure, committees and administration, making them more and more international. We’re working hard on this, bringing in faces from all over the world – although it’s not easy. That’s maybe our weakest point at the moment, so we need to put a lot of effort in. Having hired Christophe Troendle as marketing manager is a good step.”
The IOC’s executive board preceded its recommendation for wrestling to lose its place on the 2020 programme with a lengthy analysis of the contribution each sport makes to the games, conducted in part through a detailed questionnaire sent to all of the Olympic federations.
Ayer added: “Looking at the questionnaire, it’s difficult for me to understand where you could say we were bottom of the list. I don’t think the IOC know. We were told we were near the bottom of the list but we never saw the list. Wrestling was apparently in the middle of the list.”
That apparently discredited process for ‘refreshing’ the Olympic programme is one of a range of issues being reviewed as part of the so-called Olympic Agenda 2020 programme initiated by Thomas Bach, the new IOC president.