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AAM’s Aims For Scottish Open

Anthony Powell’s novel, Books Do Furnish a Room, has come to suggest a type of person. If they have or work in a book-filled study, the impression is created of a literary, studious type. You can make a similar judgment from observing a man who has golf clubs and bags, some still unwrapped, in his office, namely that he is a golf enthusiast. The more so when he picks up a club and wiggles it while musing: I wonder what sort of shaft they have put in here?
Meet Martin Gilbert of Aberdeen Asset Management, a fund management group that was established in that Scottish city nearly 30 years ago and is now a top-100 company listed on the FTSE (Financial Times Stock Exchange). Gilbert, 57, is a man with an endearing giggle, a gravelly voice and a bearish frame that suggests he could manoeuvre a hockey ball well (he did) and hit a golf ball a long way (he does, though not often).
“Martin Gilbert is a very considerable good egg,” Ken Schofield, the former executive director of the European Tour and Golf Channel analyst, said. “He is as tough as old boots, obviously very successful, and you want someone like that batting for you rather than against you, don’t you?”
Aberdeen Asset Management, a sponsor of the Scottish Open, are much smaller than Barclays, who had sponsored the Scottish Open from 2001 to 2011, BMW, who put millions into the PGA Championship at Wentworth each year, and HSBC, the bank that seems intent upon identifying themselves with almost every important rugby and golf event in Europe, the Middle or Far East. But Gilbert is creating waves in golf because his firm is increasing their financial investment and involvement in amateur and professional golf, for men and women, at a time when so many other firms are reducing theirs or withdrawing altogether.
“It is a great time to be doing sponsorship,” Gilbert said. “Sponsorship has really collapsed. We come in at the bottom of the cycle. We are value investors. We look at what we can pick things up for. We are trying to increase our name awareness around the world, but specially in the US and Asia, where a lot of the people we are trying to reach play golf.”
Gilbert said that the way his company had become a sponsor of the Scottish Open after the sudden withdrawal of Barclays was typical. “Hugo Boss wanted to sponsor it but they wanted to move it from Scotland so the Scottish Government came in and put in quite a big subsidy which allowed us to come in and invest as well.” He said that while he wouldn’t reveal how much AAM were paying for sponsorship rights of the Scottish Open, it was significantly less than Barclays.
“Television coverage in the US is our motivation for our involvement in the Scottish Open. We wouldn’t do it if we had to pay the full sponsor’s sum. We only do what is value for money. We have a five-year contract with a break clause after three years. Our continued involvement will depend on the TV coverage of the event in the US. We already know it will be on the Golf Channel, which gets into 95 million homes. One of the downsides is that we will lose the BBC next year. It will go to Sky, and so we will have to look and see what damage that does to the viewing figures. There may be the possibility of terrestrial exposure in the US.”
But it’s not just the Scottish Open. AAM supports Paul Lawrie and Colin Montgomerie. They support Edinburgh Rugby, the Ladies Scottish Open, and a rowing regatta in Philadelphia, site of their US headquarters. They put a sum that is nearer five-figures than six into Scottish amateur golf.
“We fly them to South Africa; Johann Rupert looks after them when they’re there,” Martin said. “It has transformed the Scottish team. They have started winning. Johann said to me: ‘Martin, it is fantastic. It has taught our amateurs they are not as good as they thought they were so they have to up their game or else they are not going to be able to compete.’ ”
AAM’s total annual sponsorship spend is less than £3 million, surprisingly small. That is for all its sponsorship, not just the Scottish Open.
“Even so, it has to be justified. You have to consider investment very carefully and we have to consider what we get for our money,” Gilbert said. “I have no problem telling my shareholders we’re getting good value for our sponsorship because we are building our name awareness. Our name awareness lags far behind our size and status. There are two big guys in the independent asset management business in the UK. There’s us and there’s Schroders. Everyone has heard of Schroders; nobody has heard of Aberdeen even though we’re almost the same size.
“I hope we can do a really good job with the Scottish Open,” Gilbert continued. “It should be played on a links course. I would like to see it become a must-play event.”
In this he is not alone. The Open championship of a country as associated with golf as Scotland should be just that, a must-play, must-win event.


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