With more than 25 years in golf and 40 years in the arts, BMW AG has long used sponsorship to promote the BMW brand experience.

That strategy includes a direction few companies are brave enough to go: event ownership. Case in point:  BMW in October titled the European Tour’s BMW Masters, a golf tournament that marked the automaker’s return to China after dropping title of the BMW Asian Open in 2008. 

The automaker also owns the European Tour BMW International Open, an event located near its hometown of Munich, Germany. 

IEG SR spoke with Eckhard Wannieck, BMW’s head of sponsoring, cooperations and product placements, about the automaker’s approach to sponsorship, growing competition in the arts and other topics.

Below are edited excerpts from the conversation.

IEG SR: BMW has sponsored golf and other types of events for many years. What role does sponsorship play in BMW’s marketing mix?

Wannieck: We want to achieve two things. First, we like to generate visibility for our brand and get our brand values across. The second reason—and the more important reason—is to generate a brand experience.

That’s very important to us. Experiential marketing is the best way to get to know the brand and BMW brand values.

IEG SR: From a global perspective BMW focuses on three pillars: motorsports, golf and sailing. Tell me about those platforms.

Wannieck: BMW is a premium brand, so we focus on premium sports. Golf is a very dynamic, aesthetic sport which ties in well with the BMW brand.

We have pinnacle golf events in our four largest markets: The BMW Championship in the U.S.; BMW International Open in Germany; BMW Masters in Shanghai, China; and the BMW PGA Championship in England.

The events draw the top players in the world. We had the top 25 players at the BMW Championship in Indianapolis this year.

We also have amateur golf activities in each market where dealers can invite customers to play on a professional course. The pinnacle events provide visibility and awareness, while the amateur events provide access to target groups from a customer relationship perspective.

Headquarters promotes, supports and leverages golf, sailing and motorsports, but every market has room to maneuver for its own activities. But every sponsorship must have the right brand fit, target audience, etc.

Tennis is big in Germany, and endurance sports are big in Germany and Japan. Marathons are not an international pillar, even though many markets are active in endurance sports. Last year we signed title of the Berlin Marathon. The marathon is one of the five world’s largest marathons, and the event gains TV exposure in 194 countries. It’s a German activity, but it’s relevant outside Germany.

IEG SR: BMW owns several events. What’s the thinking there?

Wannieck: We want to be part of an event. We don’t throw money at a property to put our logo on it. We want to create things jointly with our partners. That’s our basic belief. Otherwise, we have no credibility.

Look at the BMW Masters in Shanghai. We own the golf course and we designed the overall program including hospitality and TV spots. Everything is designed by BMW so we can make sure it’s the right BMW experience for everyone, including people who attend the event and people who watch it from home.

IEG SR: Has BMW’s sponsorship strategy changed at all over the years?

Wannieck: It’s never business as usual. We always want to improve things. At the same time, we want to be sustainable and take a long-term approach.  We’ve been a global player in golf for 25 years. We stick with our strategy, and we don’t have a lot of changes every year.

IEG SR: What sponsorship trends do you see?

Wannieck: There is fierce competition to find new properties outside of sports, and arts and culture are becoming increasingly relevant.

BMW has sponsored arts and culture for 40 years. It’s a huge thing for us. We have many activities in the arts, and we see other brands taking the same approach.

The Guggenheim Museum is one of our major partners. We leverage the partnership with the BMW Guggenheim Lab, a joint project that offers solutions for urban life. Many of our customers live in major cities, and it’s our responsibility to look for solutions in those markets. As a major brand we can’t just focus on the street—we have to look at the big picture and challenges we face in cities and society in general.

IEG SR: Speaking of which, what is your biggest challenge when it comes to sponsorship?

Wannieck: We have to constantly reinvent ourselves to deliver our brand promise of creativity and innovation. At the same time, we want to be sustainable with long-term partnerships. It’s a delicate balancing act.