Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Watch out

Timekeeping has always been an integral part of motorsport, and as I've become more interested in watches lately I've become much more aware of how closely linked the two industries are. These relationships seem to always be win-win: watch manufacturers gain credibility by associating themselves with the glamorous, sporty and hi-tech image of motorsport; and racing series, teams and drivers gain credibility by associating with the precision craftsmanship and luxury image of high-end timepieces. Just flick through the pages of British motoring magazines to see what I mean - ads all over the place for TAG-Heuer, Oris, Chopard, Breitling and more. Often you find watch reviews in their editorial too. In fact, American weekly rag Autoweek ran a feature on auto-inspired watches last month.

So where can we find these relationships? Generally in three areas: "official timekeeper" roles, sponsorship and endorsements and naming rights.

Official timekeeping deals are usually done with a race or with a racing series. In exchange for providing hardware and manpower to help run timing and scoring, a watch manufacturer sees their name notated on every timing caption on TV. In addition they often get to use the name and branding of the series on their products. Back in the 80s I can clearly remember seeing the Longines name during every Formula 1 broadcast before it was replaced by TAG-Heuer. Another big timekeeping deal right now is MotoGP's association with Tissot, which has spawned a MotoGP watch. The blingiest of all the Swiss watches, Rolex, is official timekeeper at Le Mans, as evidenced by the big Rolex clock hanging above the pitlane entry.

Watch manufacturers have long had a sponsorship presence in motorsport. What caught my eye most recently was Oris' name on Williams F1 cars. The deal with Williams has resulted in a lovely range of WilliamsF1 watches too. Breitling, best known for their aviation-inspired chronometer watches, were all over the Bentley Le Mans efforts in 2001, '02 and '03. A spin-off watch range resulted (a bit gaudy for my taste, I have to admit). Sponsorships do not just come from high-end luxury Swiss manufacturers: mid-range Italian watchmaker Breil sponsor the racing operations of Ducati Corse.

The biggest area of interaction between watchmaking and motorsport is in endorsements and naming rights. There's a myriad of watch collections out there with famous racing names on them, from the Chopard Mille Miglia to the TAG-Heuer SLR to the Panerai Ferrari to Jacques Lemans' mid-priced F1 range. Many top racers also lend either their name or image to watches including Nicky Hayden (Tissot), Kimi Raikkonen (TAG-Heuer) and Michael Schumacher (Omega). Even Marcus Gronholm has a watch endorsement, although in his case he's gone for Japanese maker Orient. For a more tenuous racing connection, look no further than Steve McQueen's association with the utterly cool Heuer Monaco, the watch he wore in the movie Le Mans.

The racing / watch dynamic is extremely interesting and really comes with only one downside... cost. Most of the watches I mention above cost at least $1500 and can run up to $6000 in some cases. Ever wondered why there's so many emails in your junk mail folder with the subject line "Replica Watches" or something similar....?

1 comment:

breil said...

breil and ducati goes very well