Massive market to tap

Shanghai Star. 2003-04-03

LONDON - Formula One team boss Eddie Jordan had about 100 million reasons to be cheerful last weekend despite his drivers' failure to score points in Malaysia.

Jordan, Ireland's favourite motor racing team, have been adopted by the Chinese.

The entrepreneurial Irishman, struggling to raise sponsorship in a tough economic climate at the start of the season, last week signed what the team hailed as a "groundbreaking" agreement with China.

The deal, with CCTV State television and Shanghai's International Circuit, may be small but it makes Jordan the network's "preferred team" as China gears up for a grand prix debut in 2004.

With CCTV boasting a reach of more than 100 million households, and 26 million in the Beijing area alone watching the season-opening race in Australia, the deal could have lucrative ramifications.

"I don't know that," Jordan said in Malaysia. "All I know is that the reactions of at least three teams in Formula One here are almost bordering on being upset. So that must infer something.

"There were a number of things: The colour yellow, the independence of Jordan, there was a tiny lead and we went after it and we beat a number of huge manufacturers to it.

"It was a big coup for our people."

Open access

While red, the colour of world champions Ferrari, symbolizes luck and wealth in China, Jordan's yellow livery stands for happiness, glory and wisdom.

But the main considerations were more prosaic.

"The thing that makes it quite compelling for us and for Ford (Jordan's engine suppliers), is that the Chinese Government has sanctioned this deal," Jordan's marketing director Mark Gallagher said.

"The grand prix is a government-sanctioned event and CCTV are government owned. They decided they wanted to create interest in Formula One in China before the grand prix and the best way was to adopt a team."

Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone signed a deal last October for Shanghai, China's largest and fastest-growing city, to host a race from 2004 to 2010.

A circuit designed by German Hermann Tilke, architect of Malaysia's acclaimed Sepang track among others, is being built at a site about an hour from downtown Shanghai with a total spectator capacity of 200,000.

Completion is scheduled for March next year and Formula One is expected to be an instant hit.

Gallagher said Jordan had agreed to throw open the Silverstone factory and wind tunnel to CCTV as well as making the team's staff available for interviews.

"We have pledged to give them that. Some of the things are things we wouldn't normally do for people - engineers explaining the technology and that. No doubt Eddie will be making more visits to China in due course as well."

In return, Jordan hopes to offer potential partners increased exposure to a huge market as well as becoming a first point of call for Chinese companies interested in raising their profile abroad.

"It is an unbelievable opportunity," said Gallagher.

"China is such a major market and we will be the team of China between now and the grand prix happening."

He said within a week of the agreement being announced, three Chinese companies and two European ones had been in touch with the team.

Jordan's main backers are Benson and Hedges cigarettes, owned by Britain's Gallaher Group Plc which has an agreement with the state-run China National Tobacco Corporation (CNTC) to distribute one of its brands in China.

The country has an annual market of 1.7 trillion cigarettes, representing 40 percent of the world's consumption.

Ford, whose blue oval is prominent on the car, are also eager to exploit the team's connection in a rapidly expanding arena for the marque.

"Formula One is a great way to showcase Ford around the world," said the carmaker's European head Martin Leach. "The relationship between Jordan-Ford and CCTV is a fabulous opportunity to raise our profile." (Agencies via Xinhua)

Copyright by Shanghai Star.