I failed to arise at 3 am Pacific Slacker Time on Tuesday to watch the riveting press conference announcing the already-announced killer deal between the FEI and Longines, but a friend in a kinder time zone filled me in on the pertinent details, which were few but fascinating. The first irony of this New Deal is that the press conference started 40 minutes late – quite a gaffe for one of the world’s leading watch companies and the new official timekeeper for the FEI. The press conference, once under way, was less a news breaking event (especially since a press release on December 27th predated it by nearly two weeks) than a public display of affection between the two women in charge, Nayla Hayek and Princess Haya. I guess when you have such a high proportion of ‘a’s in your name you are necessarily going to turn out to be an alpha.
Here is how my friend described the dynamics at the podium between Mme. Hayek and Haya: “She and Haya kept sneaking little knowing winky smiley glances at each other like they’d just spent the weekend together in bed.” I thought this might be an exaggeration, but then my friend suggested I look at the photo in the FEI press release that came out shortly afterward:
My friend’s caption: “I love you.””No, I love you more!”
Well, that does look awfully warm and fuzzy for two alpha females, doesn’t it? Others have already pointed out the undeniable link between Longines and the middle east, but the scene is even cozier than you might realize. Longines has another long term relationship with Meydan (you know, HRH’s husband’s racetrack in Dubai).
Here is a slightly less cuddly press conference from when that deal went down in 2011:
Longines is also a title sponsor of Sheikh Mohammed’s favorite weekend pastime, endurance racing, including the Endurance World Championships. This is turning out to be quite the layer cake.
The FEI declined to put the entire press conference on FEI TV, but they did make a little video tidbit available for free, and while it’s lean on details it’s rich in body language along the lines of the photo above. You may have to register with FEI TV to see it, but it’s free to do so, if a bit of a PITA.
There was one more thing my pal mentioned about the press conference, and her observation was picked up by more than one media outlet. Hayek said she doesn’t like the word ‘sponsor’ because it suggests the relationship is only about money. HRH agreed (you can see that on the FEI TV clip), though she was surprisingly lacking in her usual eloquence, saying that it was about more than ‘dollars or Euros’, which is a bit of a tautology. HRH also seems to have failed to note the accepted pronunciation of Longines. She pronounced it more like ‘long jeans’.
A few details about Mme. Hayek. When her father, Swatch founder Nicolas Hayek, died in 2010, the business world was mildly shocked to see her become the chairwoman of the company, and not her brother Nicolas Jr., who was already the company’s CEO. Mme. is a big Arab horse person, involved with various Arab associations, a breeder, and an Arab show judge. She came in at number 63 on Arabian Business’s 100 most powerful Arab women of 2012 list (HRH didn’t make the list). Interestingly, I could find no information about her personal life, such as whether she is or was married or has any children.
So this is not a sponsorship deal, it’s a ‘partnership’. If I had no idea what the FEI was, I would think that HRH OWNED the FEI. It’s abundantly clear that this partnership is very much HRH’s ‘deal’. Trouble is, her second term is up in two years, and I’m pretty sure the FEI constitution states that a president can stay for only two terms. That’s where my Hugo Chavez reference from today’s headline comes in. Someone whose opinion I trust a great deal said to me shortly before HRH’s landslide re-election victory that the FEI has become “addicted to Haya’s money”. He wondered how the FEI could continue to exist if she were to go away and take all the deals she had brokered with her. When you look at the language used with this Longines deal, and see the obvious personal bond between HRH and Mme. Hayek, it seems hard to imagine this ‘partnership’ not being tied to HRH’s continuation in her role as President. She has two years to change the FEI’s constitution to allow a third term. If she goes for a Full Hugo, she could be re-elected over and over in perpetuity.
And what about poor Rolex, left out in the rain with their (thankfully) waterproof watches? Rolex is frustratingly famous for holding its cards close to its chest, but the company did issue a statement which they sent out to only a few selected media. Considering Rolex’s typical reluctance to betray any opinion or emotion, the statement is the equivalent of a cry of outrage. If the Longines deal becomes the death knell for Rolex’s support of such iconic events as Rolex Kentucky and Aachen, it would be a terrible loss for the sport. And yet, how can we reasonably expect Rolex to soldier on with a knife sticking in its back?
I have, in the past, jokingly referred to the FEI as Mission Control or HQ, as if it were some imperial power lording over the world of equestrian sport. Sometimes a joke is closer to the truth than the person telling it realizes.