It's all about the kids

The latest development to bear a sporting name may lay claim to winning the branding world cup.

AST Group, ANALYSIS, Projects

The latest development to bear a sporting name may lay claim to winning the world-cup of branding. As Pele City looms on the horizon, Jamie Stewart asks how the project can do justice to the legend.

Hot on the heels of F1 stars Michael Schumacher and Niki Lauder, and three-times Wimbledon champion Boris Becker, comes Brazilian soccer legend Pele.

This may sound like a stroll through the sports section of Madame Tussaud's museum, covering the past three decades of glorious triumph, but it could just as easily represent the Dubai skyline a few years from now.

Earlier this year, a foreign investment company that based itself in Dubai launched a triumvirate of office and commercial buildings, which have gone the extra kilometre to stand out from the crowd in an ever expanding market, by branding the towers with the names of famous sports figures who made a name for themselves in their respective sport.

Many would say that the glory days have passed for these sportsmen. So seeing as sports stars once had a reputation for retiring from their chosen profession and drifting into careers as landlords of small town bars and clubs, good for the northern Europeans for seeking something a little more glamourous.

Following suit, the Pele brand license was awarded at the beginning of this month to Dubai-based AST Group by Brazil's Prime Licensing, the firm set up solely to manage worldwide licensing rights to the Pele brand. AST Group lists project management, facilities management and consulting among its disciplines.

Boris Becker, while speaking at the February launch of the snappily titled Boris Becker Business Tower, said "the city of Dubai has state-of-the-art infrastructure that matches the offerings of this tower, and the regional investment climate is founded on valid economic fundamentals."

Wise words indeed - particularly from one who is surely more at home with the phrases "out," "ace" and "the ball was in." Quotes such as this suggest that Becker has an interest in the market beyond slapping his name across the side of the tower, and watching the dollars roll in.

Is there any chance that the same will be said for Pele once the projects that bear his name get underway? Because the cynical among us may harbour the suspicion that, just maybe, it's all one big marketing ploy.

Building a legend

Pele himself is one of the few men who can hold a torch to the likes of Muhammad Ali and Jesse Owens. A true sporting legend, he learned his trade as a child by juggling oranges with his feet in the streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil.

He went on to amaze packed stadiums the world over as playmaker for the Brazil national team in the 1970 World Cup - widely regarded among history's greatest ever soccer teams. To this day he remains in possession of a name that crosses cultural barriers and bridges generation gaps the world over. From Australia, to China, to the Middle East, everyone knows the name Pele.

"We are definitely not looking into creating some building and putting his name on it, says AST Group Chairman Ali Al Taher. "It is going to have his fingerprints throughout the design.

According to Al Taher, Pele's values primarily centre on well-being. He says Pele has also been the UN ambassador for the environment and for peace, reflections of a personality that will apparently be incorporated into the development.

"We will include two elements. Firstly, we are going to develop real estate where somebody can go at the end of the day to take care of themselves. It's about lifestyle, with well-being at the core of it," Al Taher says.

"Second, we are going to ensure that environmental issues and green issues are at the core of our development."

Al Taher certainly sounds sincere while expressing these sentiments. Paulo Ferreira, the CEO of Prime Licensing, the source from which all official Pele branding deals flow, elaborates on the values of Pele.

"He always asks us to do something for kids," Ferreira said in a national newspaper interview earlier this month. "Everything with Pele is about kids and social programmes. He is very conscious about that."

So the vast sea of capital investment that constitutes the Middle East real estate market is suddenly, it would appear, about kids and social programmes.

Great news for the majority who lack the capital to invest due to spiraling costs. News that will probably come as some surprise, however, to those who can afford to get rich quick via astute investment, particularly in a development that bears the name "Pele," and hadn't foresaw their responsibilities towards kids and social programmes.

A complex issue

The first Middle East real estate project under the Pele brand name will be a US $1 billion mixed-use "Pele Complex." AST is yet to decide on the location, but says that it will without doubt be a high end development.

According to further statements from AST, Pele has traveled throughout the world "promoting a message of peace and tranquility." Al Taher also says, "We will translate Pele values and lifestyle into projects."

So the big question for Al Taher: How does a $1 billion, mixed-use property development aimed at the high end of the market reflect social programmes, the rights of children, and the values of peace, love, and tranquility?

"Providing lifestyle for the family is going to be something that we will translate into the real estate," says Al Taher.

"We will probably even end up developing Pele City. We will include playgrounds and football grounds, and programmes for the kids. All these education elements will be part of the project."

With Pele City on the horizon, the challenge for AST Group is to remain true to what it has publicly expressed as its core values. It's a development that accounts for how people live, for their well-being, and that provides opportunities for kids to express themselves through both work and play.

Pele, it would appear, is active in the planning itself. "He will be involved in quarterly reviews that we are going to have," says Al Taher. "He will also have an input whenever some milestone in the design has been completed. He overlooks and oversees the entire design itself."

AST's communication includes a letter, purportedly from Pele himself, stating: "We are entering the field as a victorious team. Pele, Prime Licensing and now, AST. We will definitely score lots of goals and conquer many titles together."

So we have the word not only of AST and Prime Licensing, but apparently of Pele himself, professing that it is not about clever marketing and making money. That it is actually about life-style, family values and giving kids a chance.

If you happen to be passing through Pele City in 20 years time, and you pass a happy gaggle of Emirati kids confidently juggling oranges with their feet, the promises of big business might become a little easier to believe.

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