When the hunt for a new title sponsor for the Formula One Singapore Grand Prix began seven months ago, race organisers knew exactly whom they should look for - Singapore Airlines.
"It was our first choice," Singapore GP executive director Michael Roche said yesterday as the national carrier officially came on board on a two-year naming rights deal.
It takes over from SingTel, reportedly at an annual cost close to US$10 million (S$12.5 million), similar to the sum shelled out by the local telco in each of its six years as title sponsor.
"We were absolutely adamant about courting a Singapore brand," said Mr Roche. "And there are only a few that would have the appetite or ability to take on this sponsorship. So we approached these companies."
The deal has been hailed as a perfect marriage between the airline and the F1 night race.
"This synergistic partnership will provide the widest exposure and fantastic opportunities in the promotion of both Singapore and F1 around the world," said Mr Ong Beng Seng, the hotel tycoon who brought the race to Singapore and finances 40 per cent of the $150 million believed to be spent on hosting each race.
That investment reaps around $150 million in incremental tourism receipts annually.
Meanwhile, having Singapore's glittering skyline broadcast across the globe also offers a bigger, albeit intangible, payoff.
"It's obviously working very well from the tourism perspective," Mr Roche said of the race, which attracted spectators from 116 countries last year.
He added that SIA's global network, which extends to 62 destinations in 34 countries, will help elevate the Grand Prix's standing in emerging markets like India.
The newly inked deal has, however, raised a few eyebrows.
Apart from the Singapore Airlines International Cup and KrisFlyer International Sprint horse- racing events, the Republic's flagship carrier has generally shied away from lending its name to sporting events.
But SIA chief executive Goh Choon Phong insisted that it is constantly on the lookout for sponsorship opportunities.
"When this one came up, we decided that it was the right time," he said.
With the deal inked, all eyes will be on how SIA puts its stamp on this year's race. Will the grid girls line up in its trademark sarong kebaya?
"There are no details yet," Mr Goh said. "But our marketing team is looking at what we can do."
This article was published on April 16 in The Straits Times.
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