As we near the start of the tournament, the majestic fairways of the renowned Brabazon have been meticulously preened, and The Belfry has got the Champagne on ice, ready to welcome some of the planet’s biggest sporting Icons. Thomas Brookes, Founder and CEO of Iconiqe, looks ahead to a stunning weekend of golf from some of the world’s greatest footballers…
The final countdown is on. How are the preparations shaping up?
The preparations are going manic, as with any event in the closing stages, and things are coming into our laps. But generally speaking, things are going well. Apart from the weather, which is awful – I’m at The Belfry today and the weather is terrible. But overall the plans are going really well – ticket sales are picking up and going well, and if we can order some nice weather, it’s going to be a really special weekend.
How long does it take to put an event like this together?
Mostly the events would take, operationally and logistically, about 12 months to organise. But planning in terms of the conceptual stuff would probably take another 12 months on top of that, so I would say an event would be a two-year planning process. But operationally and strategically, we would start implementing things from our strategy from about 12 months out.
What are the biggest organisational challenges you have faced?
That’s a really good question. I would say things that are outside of our control. Outside influences that you can’t help. So that might be things like suppliers letting you down, which then has an effect on your cash flow, or it could be the weather. There are numerous things that we don’t control that are frustrating, but those things appear and you have to deal with them at the time, and that can probably be the most frustrating thing.
What has been happening in the past few weeks that has got you especially excited about the tournament?
I think seeing the local community engage with it. There are now a lot of large screens around Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool that have ICONS of Football and ICONS Series posters and visuals all around, so to see that coming to life now is great. And the ticket sales reflect that, so it gets your juices flowing to know that people are actually keen to get tickets to come and attend an event that you’ve created, so that’s quite exciting for me.
What are you most looking forward to?
Personally, my holiday afterwards! No, I’m looking forward to the guys coming. And growing the concept, obviously. It’s the third event we’ve done – the first one in the UK and the first one that’s really been ticketed – so I’m looking forward to seeing that growth from previous events. Because it was a really small idea that’s grown and grown, so once you sort of think about adding more serious elements to the event, it’s great to see that in action. And for me to see a few thousand people walking through the gates to come and watch something we’ve created is quite special, so that’s probably what I’m most looking forward to.
How do you think the location, at The Belfry, is going to affect how the tournament plays out?
Massively. It’s the most iconic Ryder Cup venue in the world – that’s why we chose it. But it also means that, with our event being a Ryder Cup format, we get to really use the most iconic Ryder Cup course to give the players a platform they can perform on. And I think the fact there hasn’t been a Ryder Cup event here since 2002, and there hasn’t been a major event here since 2008, the area around Birmingham, people want to come and watch a fresh, new event. It’s long overdue for people in the area. I think The Belfry is globally well recognised as well, so when we’re pushing it out on to TV broadcasters, the fact that it’s here really sort of signals it as a serious and important event. So yeah, it’s great to be here, to be honest.
Which hole do you anticipate is going to provide a backdrop for the weekend’s best action?
I would say 10, definitely. Well, hole one, obviously, for the nerves of the players teeing off from the first hole – that’s always a good hole to be around. I think 10 is obviously the famous drivable par-four hole, which is world famous and renowned for Seve Ballesteros’s shot in the Ryder Cup, and then probably the 18th. That’s obviously where we’re going to be having our amphitheatre of entertainment, around the 18th green, so most people will be congregated around there. The 18th is also where we’ll have our £1 million swing, which is quite a key feature in the event, and it’s going to be a live broadcast, so that’s where all that action will take place. So I think 1, 10 and 18 are going to be the key holes at the weekend.
What are you hearing from the players? What are they getting excited about?
I think just the competition. I think the fact there’s two Ryder Cup icons who are going to be their captains, in Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke – I don’t think they’ve ever experienced something like that before, so to play under a captain of that ilk is certainly something they would be looking forward to. And just the format and the concept, and then having a few thousand people come to watch them pay golf rather than football is quite a unique experience for them.
Which players do you think are going to be the ones to look out for?
On the England team, I would say the player to look out for would probably be Michael Carrick. He’s a bit of a bandit. He says he’s off 14, but I think he’s better than that. And on the Rest of the World team, I’d say Dwight Yorke or Gabriel Batistuta. Batistuta has just arrived from Argentina, three weeks early, to get some practise in and be around golf and get acclimatised on his body clock and everything else, so he’s taking it seriously. But Dwight, when the cameras are turned on, he’s always a showman and always raises his game, so probably Dwight or Batistuta for the Rest of the World team.
Away from the golf course, what can people expect from the event?
Lots. There’s light music, there’s DJs, there’s a really cool beatbox group called Duke, who are fantastic, and then we’ve got a kids’ zone for children of all ages, which ranges from face-painting and bouncy castles right through to golf lessons and golf simulators. So it’s a really good mix for children, families and groups of adults who want to come and just engage with the kind of festival feel we’re trying to create outside of the course ropes.
Is it going to be an event people can bring the family along to?
Yeah, of course. Seventy per cent of people coming to our event have never been to a golf tournament before, and we’re really excited about that side of it – so we can engage with a new audience and encourage people to participate in golf and also to come to future events that we put on.
Finally, if you were a betting man, who would you put your money on – England, or Rest of the World?
My heart says England. My head says Rest of the World.
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