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Longines a Loyal Sponsor of International Thoroughbred Racing

Longines Watch on Kentucky Oaks DayThe connections of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah should have no trouble telling what time it is for the rest of their lives. Longines awarded commemorative watches to trainer Bob Baffert, owner Ahmed Zayat, and jockey Victor Espinoza when the colt picked up the title of the 2015 Longines World's Best Racehorse Award earlier this year in London. By our count, that brings Espinoza up to seven watches thanks to his wins in American classics sponsored by the Swiss company—a testament not only to the jockey's success, but to the company's investment in the sport of racing.

According to Blue Horse, an equestrian magazine put out by Longines, the company is the title sponsor of 40 races or awards through the first ten months of 2016 and just extended its sponsorship of the World's Best Racehorse Award through 2023 (the original contract went through 2018).

This prompts the question of just how many watches Longines must sell in order to make that investment worthwhile.

According to Juan-Carlos Capelli, vice president and head of international marketing at Longines, the partnership is a long-standing one—and it's about more than just making a sale.

“We have a very long history with horse racing,” said Capelli, who noted that Longines produced a stopwatch engraved with a horse and jockey in 1881. “Our first timing activity was two years later at a racetrack in New York. We are still the timekeeper at Belmont Park, where we timed American Pharoah winning the Belmont Stakes.”

Obviously, time is important to both watchmakers and horse trainers, but Capelli thinks of the modern relationship between the two as a “sharing of values” — performance, elegance, and tradition.

Longines is one of the oldest traditional Swiss watchmakers in the world, and the tradition of horse racing spans centuries. Racing is one of few sports where many of the spectators still dress up, and for many of them, a luxury watch would not be out of place as an accessory. When it comes to performance, Capelli points to the precision required of a horse and jockey to move together toward the finish line, not unlike the exacting performance of a high-end timepiece.

But does this sharing of values actually translate to sales? For Capelli, it's not a one-to-one relationship, although he has found that web traffic increases on the Longines website during racing events the company sponsors. This was especially true during last year's Triple Crown as American spectators presumably went searching to learn about the company. Although Capelli joked that he was hesitant to point this out to a fellow watchmaker, he believes the brand recognition Longines has found in horse racing could be beneficial to other companies looking for a national platform to improve clout with a large number of customers.

“It depends on the product and what they're doing,” he said. “We believe that this sport is a big success for us. I have a friend working with a big bank in England that also invests in horse racing, and he told me that for him, it's a big success also. It gives both of us brand awareness. It's a high-level sport, but it's also an affordable sport for everybody—the same as our product.”

However, those considering such a brand partnership should plan for the long term in order to give the experiment a fair shot, according to Capelli. He said sponsorship contracts like the ones Longines has with its many races are always multi-year affairs.

“When we are doing a partnership, it's always a long-term partnership. We're not doing it just one time. We want to build something with a partner, and to build something takes time,” said Capelli. “As you saw [at the World's Best Racehorse Awards], after five years we have seen that we start to have a good return on our objectives, thanks to our partnership with the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities.

“If you want people to recognize you, they need to recognize you with time. Rome wasn't built in two days.”

Click here to view a Longines promotional video

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