What else to say about Monaco other than its exquisite hospitality and vibrant private banking sectors. Well, much more especially when acknowledging the fact that, despite its small size, the Principality is exceedingly good at managing world class events including the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters, the Formula One Grand Prix, the International Jumping competition, or the Mare Nostrum.

Inevitably the world’s best athletes will again this year, on the road to the London Games, make a connection to Monaco and make the Samsung Diamond League Herculis meet the last major opportunity to finalize their preparation (in fact, Stockholm’s DN Galan, the next Samsung Diamond League (SDL) meet, welcomes athletes only after the Games on August 17). Each year, the elite of athletics migrate to Stadium Louis II not only because the event is known for its fast track but also because it is organized at the right time, more or less fifteen days before the year’s biggest championships (although the Games start on July 25 with the football tournament, athletics began on August 3).

Needless to say that the financial bonanza promised to winners of the Samsung Diamond League’s 14 meeting series is quite appealing. The SDL’s points systems and prize money structure are remarkable incentives. According to official documents, the SDL encompasses 32 individual event disciplines, opened to both men and women and scheduled over the 14 meeting series from May 11 (Doha) to September 7 (Brussels). Each of the disciplines is staged 7 times (meaning that 16 SDL event disciplines are scheduled per meeting and men and women compete alternatively in each event, for instance you would never attend both men and women 100 m dash during the same meeting) with the top three athletes being awarded the same amount of points at each meeting with the exception of the final meeting where the points are doubled (i.e. 1st place yields 4 points vs. 8 points in the final meet, 2nd place earns 2 points vs. 4 points, and 3rd place makes 1 point vs. 2 points). The athlete with the highest number of points in each discipline at the end of the SDL season wins the “Diamond Race.” The winner of each of the 32 diamond races receives a $40,000 cash prize and a Diamond Trophy created by Beyer, one of the oldest and most respected jewelers in the world (was established in Zurich in the 18th century). More specifically, the prize money structure grants rewards to participants as follows:

Place Prize Money (USD)
1 10,000
2 6,000
3 4,000
4 3,000
5 2,500
6 2,000
7 1,500
8 1,000
Total 30,000

The prize money budget per for each meeting is therefore a minimum of $480,000. To this you need to add extras: prize money for additional races scheduled during the meeting (such as the men’s 800 m run programmed at the Herculis competition); prize money for all race events of 1500 m and plus where the 9th to 12th places are additionally awarded with $500 each (raising the total prize money for these races to $32,000 each); prize money for meet records, season best, and a minimum bonus award of $50,000 for breaking a world record. A final element can even further stretch the prize money budget: “appearance fee,” which represents the minimum price tag to have super stars to enroll the event. According to eurosport.com, to appear to the Paris Areva meeting last year, super star and super cool Jamaican sprinter, Usain Bolt, requested $300,000. This year, the world’s fastest man will not come to Monaco to preserve his hamstring and his chance to snatch a gold medal in London in the much coveted 100 m dash (his appearance would have claimed c. $250,000). This makes the total prize money budget to amount a bit less than $1 million (obviously, this does not include operating expenses such as transportation, promotion, and other miscellaneous items, likely raising the budget to $1.5 million or €1.3 million). Lastly, the SDL season stretches over 5 months (encompassing the season’s biggest championship) and athletes need to optimize their appearance: in general, sprint and field events are more physically demanding than long distance runs. As such, it is unlikely that sprinters take part of all 14 meetings. However, in addition to prize money, what would entice the world’s best athletes to come to Monaco?

Being partly satisfied with the pecuniary explanation, we searched for a deeper rationale. To do so, we observed the team behind the Herculis event, interacted with a wide range of individuals, from managers (especially Mr. Jean-Pierre Schoebel, Herculis Director), to assistants, marketing and communication personnel, the “Herculis Perche Tour” team, permanent or temporary volunteers, and many others. We met at different times during the season and we did experience the pressure “boiling up” as the event came closer. In parallel to our inside investigation, we also met with Mr. Luis Carulla, the IAAF’s Marketing and Commercial Director until March 2012 (IAAF stands for International Association of Athletics Federations, which is the governing body of athletics with 212 member federations).

Luis Carulla, a 30-year veteran of the sports marketing industry, gave us a frank and constructive look at the sports industry. Born in Spain but raised in Switzerland, Carulla occupied senior marketing and commercial roles subsequently at ISL Marketing and Team Marketing where he had marketing and/or commercial responsibilities on behalf of the IOC, FIBA, or UEFA. After joining the IAAF in late 2006, Carulla and his team implemented a set of measures to strengthen the institution’s marketing and commercial strategy. Under Carulla, efforts also concentrated on fostering synergies between departments and on revamping the IAAF’s core “product.” In order to offer “a clear proposal for consumers, but also for athletes and for the various partners,” the IAAF developed Kids Athletics, secured prolific sponsorship deals, or reformatted competitions’ timetable to allow finals to capture greater audience during evening sessions. Lastly, Carulla drew an interesting a parallel between what he experienced at the IAAF and what he thought could explain the success of the Herculis meeting: the team of people working behind the scene. Carulla argued that in addition to having “the right product, the best performers, the right time of the year, or the right media,” success requires “the right people … and these people need to be in the right place, with the right motivation and specifically with a strong management and also with a strong experience.”

Our immersion with the Herculis team during the few weeks leading to the competition precisely confirmed Carulla’s prediction about the people working behind the scene. The entire team is made up of individuals who are athletics passionate, who have or continue to compete wearing the AS Monaco jersey and therefore who breathe, speak, and live athletics. Mr. Jean-Pierre Schoebel, himself a former decathlete and Olympian (in fact scored more than 7500 points), embodies this passion. He has assembled around him a group of competent and loyal people. His team of assistants counts both experienced and young individuals in charge of strategic initiatives including logistics, operations, finance, promotion, sales and media. For example, Frédéric Choquard, a former hurdler and current sprint coach, and Rémy Charpentier, a 400 / 800 m runner and recent sport business graduate, are Mr. Schoebel’s right-hand men and are central to the functioning of the team. Additionally, having a flat organization with an office structured around an open-space stimulates communication and innovation, and speeds up the decision-making process.

Usain Bolt, the world’s fastest man, along with the Herculis’ 2011 team of young volunteers

In addition to having “the right people,” the Herculis’ success builds on a competitive communication strategy, nurtured creativity, and reliable political ties. The organizing committee has for long understood that in order to reach a local and international audience, the marketing and communication campaign must take advantage of TV, radio and internet channels. In particular, the social media angle is adroitly exploited with someone dedicated to the management of the profile of the Herculis on Facebook, Tweeter and alike. Moreover, novelty is encouraged internally. Few years back, the organizing committee rejuvenated the local promotion campaign by allowing Nourredine Metiri to give a new life to the “Herculis Perche Tour.” The campaign builds on a team of thrilling pole vaulters who perform exhibition shows during the days preceding the competition at strategic open spaces in surrounding cities. For instance, vaulting on the famous Nice’s Promenade des Anglais draw each year the interest of hundreds of city dwellers, children, and visitors. Lastly, the Herculis Director has acknowledged for long the importance of having a vivid network. The political ingredient is central to Schoebel’s strategy who is a member of the Board of the Samsung Diamond League. Furthermore, in order to build a spectacular roster of athletes, Schoebel and his assistants travel regularly to athletics events to meet coaches, managers and athletes.

The Herculis Perche Tour Team, with prof. Louisy-Louis, promoting the Herculis at Menton on July 17, 2012

Great performances require inevitably dedication, preparation and passion. As much as the world’s best athletes do, the Herculis team strives for excellence and participating athletes appear to acknowledge this fact. Over the years, the organizing committee has built a remarkable entertainment programme based on clear understanding of the “product,” solid leadership, efficient teamwork, and unquestionable managerial skills, topics that are dear to the International University of Monaco (IUM). Indeed, these are values that IUM methodically incorporates in its programs, from undergraduate, master to doctoral programs. In particular, the university’s sport business program rigorously prepares participants for international assignments in sports event & venue management and sports marketing & communication, among others. A statement that Mr. Schoebel can certainly confirm!
We are grateful to Mr. Schoebel and his team for having opened their doors and to Mr. Carulla for his time and professionalism.

Reported by Moïse LOUISY-LOUIS, Ph D abd (mlouisylouis@monaco.edu); Professor of finance/accounting and Program Coordinator of Sport Management programs at the International University of Monaco (https://www.monaco.edu)