Interview with Michael A. Luévano, tournament director of the Shanghai Rolex Masters
Updated: Jun 10, 2019
This month, THE MAILMAN talks with Michael A. Luévano – Executive Director, International Division of the Shanghai based JUSS Event Management Co. Ltd. He is the driving force behind The Shanghai Rolex Masters and we chatted with Michael shortly after another successful hosting of the event.
HJ – Good morning Michael, Thank you for taking the time out to chat with us, congratulations on being our first interviewee and of course, congratulations on yet another successful Shanghai Rolex Masters.
We would like to understand the value Shanghai Rolex Masters creates for its partners and how that drives tournament success, specifically Rolex, ANZ & SAP?
MICHAEL –“The 1st thing you need to understand is that Shanghai Rolex Masters has a long and unusual history beginning in 98 as the 1st international sporting franchise purchased by the Chinese government. It was akin to the Chinese government buying the Lakers, that’s the kind of purchase which costs a pretty significant amount of money, needs expert management and requires long view thinking. Tennis in the late 90’s was a niche sport but the unique aspect of it was that its was the sport of the government, officials enjoying playing it, golf was too elite and took too much time, tennis was the perfect activity for exercise, people could understand it very quickly, its kind of a giant ping pong table i suppose, i say that very much tongue in cheek. The sport was very popular with the government, it had a great profile and image around the world, it was upwardly mobile, clean and somewhat affluent. All those factors led to the purchase of the franchise and would lead to the tournament partners. We steadily grew the tournament from there with the mandate of wanting to showcase the city of Shanghai eventually becoming the Shanghai Masters presented by Rolex in 2009, a huge success. We have had the pleasure of upgrading the tournament with Rolex, they became title sponsor in 2010 and just this year announced a 10 year renewal taking us thru to 2025. The tournament is the bench mark for international sports in this country, SRM exports over 7200 hours of televised content around the globe, the Rolex relationship has developed into a partnership not only with the event but with the city”
MICHAEL – “The second sponsor you mentioned ANZ, came to us in 2011 on a regional basis wanting to align with the leading ATP event. They had enjoyed a history of partnering with the Australian Open, it was a sponsorship platform they understood and China was a key market for them so they came on as a Diamond partner, 2nd only to Rolex in terms of investment and presence. ANZ have leveraged their sponsorship with development of grass roots programming here in china, together with us, they run a large grass roots programme ‘putting rackets in the hands” of over 600 kids a week for about 6-8 months of the year. It has been very successful, the program expands every year and they are committed to a 5 year term and they show no sign of ever letting the partnership go. We (JUSS Event) are in a very fortunate & unique position as owners of the event, there are no others like it, this marketplace has so few opportunities in sports and we almost enjoy a monopoly, that couldn’t happen without the asset holders (Chinese Government & partners) taking a very longterm view. The asset value of a masters event anywhere in the work is hundreds of millions of dollars if you can even acquire one.”
HJ – Rolex is a phenomenally well known brand, do they as tournament sponsors have very clear defined goals for what they are trying to achieve & acquire with their association?
MICHAEL – “Rolex want to align with the city, the rolex DNA is about elegance, precision and timeless achievement. They are not trying to sell watches, they are aligning with the most successful tournament in the country, the only event in Asia, and in one of the most dynamic cities in the world”
HJ – We want to talk about areas for improvement? – What are some of the tools you can use to drive interest in the back courts and help raise off peak attendance ?
MICHAEL – “There is no silver bullet when it come s to attendance, its a broad sweeping strategy that you have to constantly work at. There is a cultural challenge throughout Asia in tackling attendance outside of the stars or marquee matches, Asian cultures are not highly driven to go and buy tickets and attend sporting events, it is developing. Academia has always been the strong focus especially here in china. You could be watching no 12 in the world who has had 6 wins over Novak but it wouldn’t matter, its a solution process that needs to be addressed, thats an area with the largest potential of growth for us, we are still promoters at heart, we are not there yet selling out every day but thats what we are striving for.”
HJ – How much of a role does / can social media play in getting those midweek attendance figures up?
MICHAEL – “It really is important but i’m the first to admit we are behind in that area, most sporting events here (China) are in a similar catch up mode ( outside of music / entertainment) so its high on our list but its a different environment, social media China as opposed the the rest of the world. We are going to be working actively with SAP to try to find solutions for that but we can do a better job. Given our ownership, we can be slow to change but we will get there”
HJ – Shanghai Rolex Masters is widely regarded as the players choice for the best event on the ATP tour – can you talk a little bit about the contributing factors responsible for that sentiment?
MICHAEL – “It comes down to that fact that we have had such a high standard for so long, we are the 6 star hotel type event with the 6 star mentality, we ( the Chinese in my opinion) are the greatest hosts in the world, the direction we had was to spare no expense, to be very detail oriented, understanding the quality required to run a prestigious event was key, the top 10 guys have private locker rooms, the food quality has to be Michelin star level, the hardware, the basics need to be basics x 10. We are also fortunate to have had arguably the greatest generation of players grow with the tournament, when they are happy, the rest of the players see that, the doubles guys come and play and are being treated equally to Roger Federer and being looked after in the same way the marquee players are and all their needs are being met, you are going to be pretty popular. Commercially in terms of sponsorship we are in a very strong position but we want to lead the way in all things we do so the primary focus for us is attendance and then things like social media and spectator experience. We are the only Masters event with its own player app. That player can book rackets, practice courts, check results, the draw, look at sightseeing, book restaurants, they can do everything on the player app, only 160 people (players in the field) subscribe to it”
HJ – At this point Michael kindly showed us the app. Our thoughts were that is was pretty cool service and tool they have created, the players are lucky to have it.
HJ – On that note Michael, Thank you for your time and best of luck for the next years Shanghai Rolex Masters.