Sunday, January 23, 2005

Finding new sponsors

This weekend ten swimmers of the newly founded Nationaal Zweminstituut Eindhoven (Pieter van den Hoogenband’s club) will enter the EuroMeet in Luxemburg. The new chairman of NZE, Theo Vinken, doesn’t even know how to swim. "I didn’t have any connection with swimming. But I do with top sport; it’s very clear cut. You invest your energy and you will reach your goal or you don’t."

Vinken replaced former chairman Cees-Rein van den Hoogenband. Jacco Verhaeren (Pieter’s trainer) was appointed as technical director and Aad van Groningen, ex-coach of Pieter van den Hoogenband, was appointed as managing director of the swimming institute.

Finding sponsors has been a very difficult mission. The Nationaal Zweminstituut Eindhoven (NZE) now has three main sponsors (the city of Eindhoven, NOCNSF and Rabobank), but they need to have six in total. Philips is out of the game. The name giver of the professional swimming team of NZE only renewed an individual contract with Pieter van den Hoogenband. This could cause complications, because Van den Hoogenband is also the face of NZE, which has other sponsors. "We thought for a long time Philips would continue sponsoring the team", says Vinken, "but they announced last month that they would not renew the contract."

There are other potential sponsors. "I’m confident that the negotiations in the next few months will result in three new principal sponsors", says Vinken. "But it’s a lot harder than I had expected. Swimming has not been marketed properly up to now. Once every four years there’s the Olympics, which creates a hype for a while. Then there’s a World Championship and a European Championship every two years, but that’s about it. There should be some kind of Champions League for swimming, so it would be more interesting for sponsors to invest."

Companies are usually somewhat reserved when we approach them. Vinken: "They often ask us: “What will happen after Pieter van den Hoogenband retires?” That’s why we’re so glad that Pieter will continue for another four years."

This is also vital for the European Championships of 2008, which the board of NZE is eager to host in Eindhoven. It would be a great international launch of the new swimming stadium, which will be ready in 2006. "However, we don’t want the EC to be held in June. A few months later the Olympics will kick off in Beijing, so the EC would be devalued as the best swimmers will not enter to save their energy. We would prefer to have the EC held in January or February, so it can also serve as a qualifying meet for the Olympics."

Should the European swimming association LEN insist on May or June, then NZE will decline. "We will then focus on hosting the EC in 2010. But we rather host it in 2008, mainly because Pieter will still be active. That would make it easier to interest sponsors for the EC."

Another task for the new board of NZE is to improve relations with the KNZB (National Swimming Association). The last few years the professional organization in Eindhoven and the national swimming association – which mainly represents amateur athletes and thus has other interests – have not been on the same page. Vinken reckons this has been approved.

"It was necessary. But the fact remains that decisions have to be made. Will we continue with two Olympic pilars in Amsterdam and Eindhoven? Or will we work towards one organization now that TZA in Amsterdam has dissolved?"

In that case, Eindhoven would be of course the most suitable location, certainly when the new swimming stadium is finished. NZE would also like to add new top swimmers to their team. World Champion Marleen Veldhuis, who is still loyal to former TZA coach Fedor Hes, would be very welcome in Eindhoven. "I understand and appreciate Marleen’s loyalty to her trainer", says Vinken, "but eventually she might have to make a different choice for her career. Not only do we have a top swimmer with Pieter van den Hoogenband, but also a top coach: Jacco Verhaeren. Top athletes improve when they train with other top athletes."

Source: Eindhovens Dagblad / Zwemkroniek

Also read other background articles related to Pieter van den Hoogenband:

- “You can work on mentality”

- Tom Dolan analyses Van den Hoogenband

- “Winning the gold three consecutive times will be a mission impossible”

- A trainer can also peak


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