Dubai: Francesco Rocco and his colleague Abdul Kader Lahlali really look as though they belong, leaning back in leather sofas at Dubai Marina yacht club, donning deck shoes, khaki shorts and sunglasses. They are not sailors, however, they are marketing brains.

The pair is heading a team from Italian marketing company Eureka Group World working in the Middle East to sell the world's richest yachting races to would-be host nations in the region.

"I am a marketing guy, so we have started using sailing for marketing tools," said Rocco, chairman of Eureka Group World.

This group is made up of seven divisions — marketing, consulting, IT, boat building, sportswear, media and production and racing. These come together so the company can market products and services at major sailing events around the world. They firmly describe themselves as a marketing company using sailing as a platform, and not vice-versa.

In 2007 they won a contract with Rayban sunglasses and took their "Never hide" advertising campaign to the Middle East.

"They wanted to be known all over the world — they asked many companies for different kinds of solutions and they accepted our solution to create the first female sailing team in the Middle East," said Rocco.

Return on investment

Despite not winning any events, the team attracted much media interest and were frequently interviewed on CNN wearing Rayban products. TV coverage bought through advertising on the channel would have cost the company much more than through this channel of advertising, he said, so the return on investment was there.

This is the same approach they hope will work to attract host nations to Eureka's own events.

"The approach we are taking is unashamedly marketing," said Lahlali, chief marketing officer of Eureka Group World.

"Yes we are doing this for sport, we are also doing it for marketing and destination awareness. And we promise a return on investment of 15 times."

The concept is to run a series of ten-day racing events in the region in 2011, broadcast live on CNN, where host nations who pay for the event have extensive advertising rights. These will include 50 per cent of hull and sail space for advertising, as well as TV promotions of the host country.

With live CNN coverage for seven hours per day, the country that buys into the event is given a one to two minute spot every half hour to advertise themselves as a tourism and business destination as they wish.

"So you are not only hosting, you are promoting yourself," said Rocco.

"It is sailing, but it has been specially created to generate awareness, to attract investors and tourists towards the hosting nation."

It costs between $6 million and $10 million (between Dh22.02 million and Dh36.7 million) to host an event. The advertising rights on TV or on the boats themselves can be either used by the government of the country to promote itself and government-affiliated companies, or it can be sold on to the highest bidder.

The business aspect runs over into the sailing, said Rocco. Every aspect of the events won't shy away from the return-on-investment target, with sailing done close to the shore to maximise advertising and locations chosen with iconic destination images in the background. Dubai, he said, would be able to have the Burj Al Arab in the background to the sailing broadcast on CNN.

The races are being called "1v1" as the one-one racing format is tuned to diplomatic and business relations.

A host nation has complete control over who gets invited to the event.

The Eureka Group doesn't shirk the reality that this will bring diplomatic and business favouritism. They are promoting the event based on that.

Host nations will chose, "according to your current, and especially future, business. Especially emerging countries need to have these kind of relationships," said Rocco. "Every country in the world nowadays knows which country they would like to establish contacts with."