Richard Rolfe. Photographer: Peter Hislop
by Richard Rolfe OAM
Presented at Manning Clark House Weekend of Ideas "Australian Passions, the Arts and Sport", 14-15 March 2009
Thank you for your interest in art and sport. I recognize that you may have had pre-conceived ideas about the benefits to society, to business and to individuals for supporting the arts, or supporting sport, but I think that after this weekend you may have a greater appreciation of support for both the arts and sport.
I can talk with some authority of the efforts of some business organizations being involved with sponsorship and although I believe that there are really three major areas that receive support from the majority of businesses, being charities, the arts and sport, I will focus primarily on the arts and sport.
My occupation is Dealer Principal of Audi Centre Canberra, I have held this position since late 2006. I have been in the motor industry all my adult life, plus my family have been involved in the motor industry for the past four decades. Audi Australia has a strong involvement with sport- the following athletes act as ambassadors for the brand and you may recognize some of these people as they have achieved a degree of success on the sporting field- Ian Thorpe, Grant Hackett, Cathy Freeman, Steve Waugh, John Eales, George Gregan, Alissa Camplin and Todd Woodbridge.
These individuals have represented Australia at the highest level, have achieved international success and generally are well recognized as role models that any organization would be pleased to be associated with. These individuals have a good fit with Audi and their products, as the company wants to be aligned as young, dynamic and exciting.
Audi do not associate only with sport people- they also have ambassadors such as Jennifer Hawkins, Collette Dinegan, Sarah Murdoch, Kate Cebrano and Sandra Sully who are much closer aligned to the arts and again there are not many people who would need their arms twisted too hard to spend an evening with Jennifer Hawkins, or the other ladies.
Audi utilizes all these ambassadors to promote not only their products but to also promote the partners that they align themselves with. Those partners include the Australian Olympic sailing team, as Audi is the largest single sponsor of sailing in Australia including sponsoring the Audi sailing week in Hamilton Island each August. Obviously this is another prime example of sponsoring sport but Audi's other major partners are:
Cate Blancett and husband Andrew Upton, who as directors of the Sydney Theatre Company are the face of Audi's involvement with the Sydney Theatre Company. It is interesting that Cate and Andrew who could afford to buy any Audi or any other car for that matter, choose to both drive Audi A3 Diesels which are very environmentally popular cars with fuel economy figures of less than 4 liters per 100km. Promoting ones view of the planet can easily be dignified and recognized even while being sponsored by Audi. Audi are also sponsors of the Melbourne Recital centre. This building was opened earlier this year on Elizabeth Murdoch's 100th birthday to great acclaim in Victoria. Later this year Audi will also celebrate its 100th birthday and it is pleasing that these two centenarian's are involved so dramatically in assisting the arts in what is generally recognized as the artistic capital of Australia.
It may be surprising to many that a company such as Audi is so strongly involved in both sports and the arts, but I would suggest that there are many companies who take the view that it is important to support both areas, it is simply that self promotion is not generally encouraged in Australia and the media tend not to report good news stories on a regular basis that results in the public at large being ignorant of this diverse support.
McDonalds is a very large company in Australia, but the media is more likely to focus on stories regarding a super size diet of Big Macs and large fries or whether their beef is completely 100% Australian rather than considering:-
- Who provides millions of dollars support each year to Ronald McDonald Houses and Beach Houses?
- Who provides the funding for the camp quality puppets who visit schools to explain that a puppet with a missing arm or leg or eye is really just like the other puppets? These visits are generally arranged prior to a young child who has suffered a major loss though cancer returns to school.
- Who provides the funding for the Cord blood bank, which is the richest form of blood and is used primarily to assist with cancer patients?
McDonalds Australia is also involved in sponsoring sports- and are major national sponsors of Little Athletics as well as sponsoring the Good Behavior Program for parents and players at junior sport ie rugby, rugby league and soccer.
McDonalds are also involved with a more artistic area, sponsoring the Rock Eisteddfod as well as the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. The involvement by McDonalds at a national level with sports and the arts, also filters down to individual franchises all across Australia, where outlets either individually or in groups continue to promote McDonald in directions that although overseen by the national office, are generally a reflection of the individual franchises rather than head office views.
Similarly Audi dealerships are encouraged to support the local community and locally that support can be seen in Canberra with the Canberra Capitals Woman's Basketball Team, the ACT Brumbies Men's Rugby Union team and the AIS swim program which made up a third of the Beijing Olympic swim team.
You may see a similarity in Audi Centre Canberra support of the Brumbies and AIS swimming to the national office support of Ian Thorpe and Grant Hackett, and John Eales and George Gregan. There is no need to re invent the wheel if it works well, and I am quite happy to use this successful formula.
When I took over the Audi franchise in October 2006, the local dealership had local market share of less than 12% and came a distant 4th behind BMW, Mercedes and Lexus. In 2007 the Audi Centre Canberra won the national title of Dealer of the Year and backed that up again in 2008. This is the first time a Canberra dealer has won back to back national titles and our market share as at the end of February2009 has risen from 12% to 60%, and last year for the entire calendar year the most successful brand in the ACT was Audi an increase from 4th to 1st in 2 years.
I cannot say that our support of sport was the catalyst for our dramatic growth, but it is definitely one of the major factors. To have the Captain of the Wallabies, Stirling Mortlock driving an Audi is a positive story, as he can afford to buy a car of his own. Other Wallabies and Brumbies are provided with cars and other players have purchased new and used cars from our dealership so that it is very satisfying for me to drive to the parking lot at Griffith to see a training session.
Other relationships with the AIS swim team have seen sales eventuate to coaches and we also provide cars to two of Australia's highest profile swimmers, the fastest man and woman in the water, Eamon Sullivan and Libby Lenton.
In early May of this year the Australian team will be based in Canberra to compete against the Japanese National Team. When this concludes the entire Australian World Championship team will complete an Audi Centre Canberra driving training program. This half day course supervised by Australian touring car champion Brad Jones will allow 120 Canberra Audi owners to drive alongside the 40 strong swim contingent and have a lunch together to socialize. I know that my clients are looking forward to mixing it up on the track and rubbing shoulders with the current crop of swim stars, but I think the swimmers may have an advantage on the skid pan. Part of the success of Audi Centre Canberra is providing sponsorship to sport and to allow athletes to participate in the programs that I provide. My clients like the programs as well but definitely like the opportunity to meet the local and National sports stars.
I know that there is an expectation of companies to be good corporate citizens. We also have a strong involvement with the RSPCA, The Heart Foundation and the Down Syndrome Association, We also support the Special Olympics and I was Chairman of the National Junior Games last April where almost 300 children aged 10-16 who were intellectually challenged and many were also physically disabled completed in Canberra over one long weekend.
My Involvement allowed pressure or encouragement for other people to join this event. Current Brumbies Captain Stephen Hoiles, ended up looking after the Tasmanian Boys basketball team. I don't think that the mothers or carers had ever seen a rugby match or knew who Stephen was, but they all recognized a good looking young man when they saw one and he was an instant hit. AIS swimmer Brenton Rickard was training for Beijing doing laps of one pool, but out he came to present medals after each swimming race to these young children and then he would dive back into the pool again and again. I can assure you these children, their siblings, parents and carers were cheering the loudest when Brenton won 2 silver medals at Beijing a few months later on to be the most successful AIS swimmer at these Olympics.
Audi Centre Canberra is also interested in the arts and has taken clients to a number of dramatic productions. The Sydney Theatre Company does travel to Canberra and we have purchased 70 tickets to Circ de Soleil last year and 40 tickets to the Chinese production 'Divine' later this month. We also have a third interest in a box at Acer Arena and provide 350 tickets annually to clients and athletes. Many of the charitable balls have an artistic flavor to the evening, but I must confess that my leanings are primarily towards sport and charities, and then to the arts.
It is not that I do not believe that the arts deserve or warrant support, but I believe that I can either:
- Exert a degree of influence over the sporting organizations that I am involved with, or
- They share my views.
I am very aware of the support that these sportsmen and women provide to the community, signing items for various auctions, attending school clinics, and visiting hospitals that are generally unknown to the public at large. There can be concerns from time to time about the value and assistance some sports people deserve however being a successful sportsperson does not mean an automatic road to riches and being successful on the sports field does not necessarily mean being successful off the sports field.
If you are going to judge whether an athlete is an unfit role model, first ask if you hold the same ideals for yourself and friends.I would be disappointed if an athlete did disgrace themselves publicity and I am quite happy to stop my association with them if that happens. I know they can view any of my failings in the same way, but to date I am flying below the radar. I believe that support for the sport in Australia is essential. I know that some sports people will disappoint me from time to time, but the majority will provide inspiration.
I think that athletes can provide a more personal lift from time to time and everyone who saw Muhamad Ali suffering from Parkinson's disease lighting the Olympic Torch at Atlanta in 1996 at the Olympic Ceremony was moved to tears. Most people will recall particular sporting moments that made an impact not only on themselves but their friends and family as well. Cathy Freeman lighting the Olympic Cauldron and then winning Australia's 100th Gold Olympic Medal, George Gregan making that tackle or John Bertrand skippering Australia II to victory over Dennis Connor's Liberty in the 1983 America's Cup race. Sport can lift you to great heights but that missed goal or dropped ball, or bad call, or better opponent can also lead to despair. Monday morning quarterbacks are common for every losing team.
Heath Francis was named as joint AIS Athlete of the Year for his performances at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics. Having been raised in rural NSW he returned to his local Primary School with less than 40 students to talk about his experiences and show his Gold Medals.
The visit made quite an impact on these young children with a number expressing that they to wanted to be the best they could be and to achieve their goals. The letters that he received had one child writing of his hope to be a Doctor and another wanting to be a vet.
I believe that sport and achieving through adversity can represent more than just sport. Athletes should be encouraged to visit schools because their personal experiences can only assist young Australians to develop their true potential in whatever field they choose.
I do question at times whether the athlete and product are put together as a matter of convenience or whether it is just a grab for cash. I am not convinced that Tiger Woods needed to push Chevrolet Trucks during the past few years but he did not ask my opinion. I think the golfing demographics are closer to Cadillac or Audi or any other prestige brand. I also question whether a company that sponsors sport or the arts for a year or two and then pulls out is doing so out of disillusionment regarding that team or organization or simply because the fit was not right or because the business failed to work the sponsorship effectively.
I do consider who I am associated with and hope that they have similar desires to be the best, to win the title and promote our community.
I know that my involvement with sport and charities has been very rewarding both personally and professionally and although not expected, it has resulted in being added to this year's National Honor's list, so I have been and continue to very pleased to be a voice to push for continued or greater attention for Sport in Australia.