Two years ago I sat down with the then new head of the Senior Tour David MacLaren to discuss a future that, at the time, looked quite bleak. His hope was that they could up their number of tournaments from 13, two of which were US majors, and turn that into 20 by 2019.
One year ago Staysure, the UK’s leading travel insurance provider and specialist in the over 50s market, became the first ever title sponsor of the Senior Tour in a landmark partnership in a 10-year agreement.
This year the Staysure Tour has looked a far healthier place to be with players having 19 events to get stuck into with, for the first time in its history, the Indian Ocean Swing closing the season down in consecutive weeks in Mauritius and the Seychelles.
We met Staysure’s chairman and founder – and golf nut – Ryan Howsam to find out why his company have got involved with golf and, in particular, the 0ver-50s…
Where and when did you start playing?
I started playing golf when I was 13. I was playing off 4 when I was young, and I could have gone down the assistant pro route. But my parents weren’t particularly well off and I saw guys earning money elsewhere so I put my golf clubs down, got a job and didn’t pick them up again until I was 25. And then I started again, got my handicap back down to 4 but then stopped again for 20 years when I was about 28.
Growing up my golf heroes were Jack Nicklaus and Seve Ballesteros. In fact, I was playing San Roque, chipping out of a bunker, and this voice from behind me said, “You don’t want to do it like that.” I turned around and it was Seve. He told me to put the ball further forward. What a lovely man to help out a guy like me. It was special.
Playing with Colin Montgomerie and Paul McGinley at the Staysure PGA Seniors this year at the London Club has to be my playing highlight. I birdied the 1st and the 18th in front of the crowds.
Why did golf and, in particular, seniors golf make sense as a sponsorship platform for Staysure?
I believe there are about one-and-a-half million active golfers over the age of 50 in the UK. Going after that market seemed to make sense. But I think you have to be very careful with sponsorship as you can really lose money.
As a golfer, the sponsorship was nice to have. But I would not have done it if I didn’t think it made commercial sense. Plus the Tour gives us a nice brand platform for Europe, and there are two co-sanctioned events on the Champions Tour in the US, the KitchenAid and US Senior Open, the US market is a big opportunity for the future that we want to go after. The travel insurance market in the UK is about £800 million, whilst Europe is £8 billion and the US is £10 billion. So that’s why we are gearing up and will go after Europe and North America.
Was it a lengthy process?
The negotiations with the European Tour took quite a long time. I played with one of the pros on the tour and he threw the idea at me. At first I wasn’t particularly interested. But we opened up discussions and back then the deal wasn’t right as it was perhaps too early in our business cycle. But the pro kept on at me and I agreed to meet David MacLaren once he joined the Senior Tour and I got on very well with him. We cut a deal that I think was a win-win for both parties. We never even looked at any other sponsorships.
One of the key elements, suggested by another pro, was getting the PGA involved, because then you open up the golf clubs. So we revived the PGA Seniors which is now our flagship event. The tour has gone from eight events in 2017 to 19 tournaments in 2018.
What were the key messages that you want to get across?
All in all, we’re attacking golf at the pro level and the amateur level. We want to own senior golf. We’ve got the customers and off we go. We want to sell 50,000 golf and travel insurance policies in the first 12-18 months. And then everything else trickles down from that. The sponsorship for us is very strategic to our commercial business goals. It’s always very difficult to know if you’re getting a return but I am very focused on spending a pound and getting more than a pound back. It’s a front-end investment for us.
Our brand engagement went up a lot over the last few months through a combination of a new TV advert, ‘Which?’ accreditation and the golf sponsorship. The consideration to be a customer has grown a lot. When I was playing at the Travis Perkins Masters at Woburn a gentleman came up to me and said. ‘I can see you’re really into your golf’, and I said, ‘yes’. He said he’d bought a policy from us and so I thanked him, and then I asked where he’d first heard of us, was it the TV advert? But he said he’d never heard of us before the Tour sponsorship. And we’ve seen that a lot.
A 10-year title sponsorship is rarer and rarer these days – what were the drivers for you to commit to the sport for such an extended period?
I didn’t want to do an awful lot of work in building up the Senior Tour and then let someone else come in and take it. We have protection in the contract across the term if we don’t think things are working as we envisaged, but I wanted to make sure we had longevity with the sponsorship.
I would love to attract some of the big names turning 50 in the next decade, such as Darren Clarke, Thomas Bjorn and Padraig Harrington. It’s exciting to have major champions coming through – it’ll be key to build on what we’ve done in order to get bigger and better sponsors onboard and to grow the profile in both the golfing and sports media.
Staysure are the first title sponsor of the Senior Tour ever – how does it feel to have re-energised the tour for the long term?
I get hand-written letters from the pros on the Staysure Tour, emails, phone calls – they are absolute gentlemen and they have been so authentically engaging, not just with me but with fellow amateurs and fans. I think David MacLaren was already doing a great job with the Tour, growing the number of events, and then we came along at the right time to give it a boost.
Obviously the Champions Tour in the US is hugely successful and has much deeper pockets so will attract a lot of the better players. But I am working hand in glove with David on the commercialisation of the Staysure Tour, including new tournament innovations. I don’t like being No 2 or No 3 – I want to be the best we can be. A title sponsor adds a lot of value which can have an impact across senior golf.
What is the Staysure Clubhouse?
Ultimately we didn’t feel that our golf proposition was strong enough. The sponsorship is one thing but you need to put something in front of people that gives them a proposition – why am I engaging with this? So the Staysure Clubhouse is a digital hub where golfers can sign up for free to become a member, and then for under £100 you get the golf insurance, access to the Staysure Amateur Tour, plus a whole load of benefits and goodies as well as tips and latest Staysure Tour news.