Something suddenly struck me as I sat beneath a blazing sun on court No1 at Roland Garros this Monday; no, not a tennis ball served up by Maria Sharapova making her return to top flight tennis I’m afraid, nothing so exciting – rather it was the names of the tournament’s lead sponsors pasted up everywhere.
Unlike Wimbledon, the French Open relies on major corporate sponsors to keep the money rolling, to which end their names adorn the hoardings and boards that flank the courts in order to profit from the near constant TV coverage.
- BNP Paribas (Bank worth €44bn)
- FedEx (Courier worth $17bn)
- IBM (IT firm worth £139bn)
- Afflelou (French high street optician)
Yep, that’s right, a high street opticians is up there with the likes of IBM in having enough spare cash sloshing around to splash out on a major bit of international sports sponsorship.
I had suspected for a while that running a chain of opticians in France was a license to print money, given that French commercial TV is saturated with spectacle ads, and here finally was proof.
The ophthalmic system is subsidised by the health service, however the tariff coverage of 65% is unlikely to cover the cost of a pair of heavily advertised designer Johnny Hallyday specials, with a price tag of €200 upwards. Which means most of the cash is simply lining the pockets of the opticians.
But what choice does the populace have when, in true French style, the industry is protected from foreign competitors by its prohibition of the sale of spectacles online; meaning people like glassesdirect.com are barred from the French market, resulting in almost zero downward pressure on prices?
As a spectacle wearer it gets my goat when Mr Afflelou smugly strolls on to my TV screen to announce that he’s made paying him easier than ever before. I may be short-sighted Alain, but I’m not blind.
I for one won’t be buying anything from Mr Affluent not this year nor ‘nextyear’, I shall be buying my glasses in Britain.