Travel insurance provider Staysure is approaching the end of its first season as the first-ever title sponsor of golf’s European Senior Tour. The company, which specialises in travel insurance for the over 50s market, signed a ten-year agreement with the property at the end of last year.
Sport Industry Group took the opportunity to chat to Staysure chairman and founder Ryan Howsam about the impact of the milestone partnership.
Why did golf, and in particular Seniors golf, make sense as a sponsorship platform for Staysure?
One of the core reasons for the success of Staysure is very simple: we took the margin in the product and invested in marketing to as many channels as we could find to get a return. We spent more than everybody else; we outspend our closest rival 4:1. We are good at getting a return on investment in marketing spend. We keep ramping that up. When we were a first mover into TV advertising, I didn’t really know if it would work, it was quite a big investment. But we made it work very fast.
I believe there are about one and a half million active golfers over the age of 50 in the UK. Going after that market seemed to make sense. But I think you have to be very careful with sponsorship as you can really lose money. As a golfer, the sponsorship was nice to have. But I would not have done it if I didn’t think it made commercial sense. Plus the Tour gives us a nice brand platform for Europe, and there are two co-sanctioned events on the Champions Tour in the US [KitchenAid and US Senior Open], the US market is a big opportunity for the future that we want to go after. The travel insurance market in the UK is about £800 million, whilst Europe is £8 billion and the US is £10 billion. So that’s why we are gearing up and will go after Europe and North America.
The negotiations with the European Tour took quite a long time. I played with one of the pros on the tour and he threw the idea at me. At first I wasn’t particularly interested. But we opened up discussions and back then the deal wasn’t right as it was perhaps too early in our business cycle. But the pro kept on at me and I agreed to meet David MacLaren once he joined the Senior Tour and I got on very well with him. We cut a deal that I think was a win-win for both parties. We never even looked at any other sponsorships.
One of the key elements, suggested by another pro, was getting the PGA involved, because then you open up the golf clubs. So we revived the PGA Seniors which is now our flagship event. The tour has gone from eight events in 2017 to nineteen tournaments in 2018. We can offer customers ‘money-can’t-buy’ experiences through playing spots in the Pro-Ams and Alliance [playing alongside the pros in the competition itself]. The Alliance experience is brilliant and the feedback is incredible, with customers saying it was the best day of their lives – which I understand as I got to play amongst the crowds at the Staysure PGA Seniors with Montgomerie and McGinley at the London Club. And through the PGA we have created the Staysure PGA Trophy, a national competition for amateurs to compete with their club pros.
The Tour sponsorship gets our brand out there and the PGA allows us to directly reach golfers, activating at the grass roots level. The European Tour promotes the sponsorship to their database and through their partners, such as ‘How Did I Do?’.
I was also playing on the European Amateur Golf Tour, now rebranded following our headline sponsorship of it as the Staysure Amateur Golf Tour, which is not yet well known but the people playing on it love it. It has about 40 events per year, playing the best golf courses in the world under an order of merit culminating in a Tour final, which will actually be hosted by my home club, Finca Cortesin in Spain. We brought this competition into the wider sponsorship, as most of the players are again the right demographic.
When you think about the young pros playing in America and Europe, it can be quite difficult to associate with that game as they bomb the ball 350 yards and you can’t ever imagine how you can hit the ball that far. But whilst the older pros might not hit it as far, the way they score and build a round is brilliant and much more identifiable, so good to watch. Personally, I think it’s a better spectacle for most people.
All in all, the relationship with the European Tour is so positive and collaborative – we want to work with them and they want to work with us to get the best results for the Staysure Tour.
What are your key brand objectives for the sponsorship and how will you measure them?
All in all, we’re attacking golf at the pro level and the amateur level. We want to own Senior golf. We’ve got the customers and off we go. We want to sell 50,000 golf and travel insurance policies in the first 12-18 months. And then everything else trickles down from that. The sponsorship for us is very strategic to our commercial business goals. It’s always very difficult to know if you’re getting a return but I am very focused on spending a pound and getting more than a pound back. It’s a front-end investment for us. We are also delivering our customers, through the online Staysure Clubhouse, great on and off course benefits such as playing with Staysure Tour professionals in competitions, Pro-Am’s and Alliance events, hospitality at European Tour events and the Ryder Cup as well as a variety of other benefits from some of our partners in golf, all this for less than £50 which represents great value for even better benefits.
Our brand engagement went up a lot over the last few months through a combination of a new TV advert, ‘Which?’ accreditation and the golf sponsorship. The consideration to be a customer has grown a lot. When I was playing at the Travis Perkins Masters at Woburn a gentleman came up to me and said I can see you’re really into your golf, and I said yes. He said he’d bought a policy from us and so I thanked him, and then I asked where he’d first heard of us, was it the TV advert? But he said he’d never heard of us before the Tour sponsorship. And we’ve seen that a lot. A lot of new custom is obviously difficult to track, but even as the market leader we’re still growing faster than anyone else.
A ten-year title sponsorship is rarer and rarer these days. What were the drivers for you to commit to the sport for such an extended period?
I didn’t want to do an awful lot of work in building up the Senior Tour and then let someone else come in and take it. We have protection in the contract across the term if we don’t think things are working as we envisaged, but I wanted to make sure we had longevity with the sponsorship.
I would love to attract some of the big names turning 50 in the next decade, such as Darren Clarke, Thomas Bjorn and Padraig Harrington. It’s exciting to have Major Champions coming through – it’ll be key to build on what we’ve done in order to get bigger and better sponsors onboard and to grow the profile in both the golfing and sports media.
Has the first year of the sponsorship met your expectations?
It’s been a brilliant ride and it’s been all about bedding in. But from a golfing experience it’s been outstanding, for myself and our guests who have been invited to play in the tournaments. The brand engagement has gone up. So we think this is really starting to work. My aim is to get the commercial returns to pay for the sponsorship.
What’s the thinking behind your new Staysure Clubhouse concept?
Ultimately we didn’t feel that our golf proposition was strong enough. The sponsorship is one thing, but you need to put something in front of people that gives them a proposition – why am I engaging with this? So the Staysure Clubhouse is a digital hub where golfers can sign up for free to become a member, and then for £49 you get the golf insurance, access to the Staysure Amateur Tour, plus a whole load of benefits and goodies as well as tips and latest Staysure Tour news.
Why is it important for golfers to consider insurance when travelling on a golf holiday?
The golf insurance market is quite small but it made sense to launch it as we’re in this demographic. Covering the value of golf clubs is important for any golfer. The £300 “Hole In One” cover that we offer is a great benefit. And you’ve got public liability – when you see Brooks Koepka at the Ryder Cup accidently hit someone you realise it matters, it’s a very small premium to pay so it’s worth having. We have the standalone golf package and the add-on package to the general travel insurance product.
Finally, then, what are your hopes for the Tour following Staysure’s injection of investment and vision?
Obviously the Champions Tour in the US is hugely successful and has much deeper pockets so will attract a lot of the better players. But I am working hand in glove with David MacLaren on the commercialisation of the Staysure Tour, including new tournament innovations. I don’t like being No 2 or No 3 – I want to be the best we can be. Going up against the Champions Tour is going to be tough, but if we keep going in the right direction with our promotion and more sponsors come in with higher purses, then it’s feasible we can attract some of the bigger names. A title sponsor adds a lot of value which can have an impact across Senior golf.