Ice Network

Bompard: 'We achieved what we wanted to achieve'

French clothier reflects on company's sponsorship of Grand Prix event
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Eric Bombard (left) said the worst memory during the time his company sponsored the French leg of the Grand Prix Series was the cancellation of the 2015 event due the terror attacks in Paris. -Getty Images

Sponsoring the French leg in the Grand Prix Series for 17 years made Eric Bompard's name a famous one in the world of figure skating, although the man himself remained mostly unknown. Bompard has decided not to sponsor the event this year. He, nonetheless, agreed to answer icenetwork's questions about what led him to support the Trophée for so long -- and why he decided to stop.

Icenetwork: How did you become the sponsor of the French Grand Prix?

Eric Bompard: We first spent five years as the second sponsor (from 1999-2003), along with the Lalique company (a world-famous crystal designer. Skaters from that era may remember the fantastic spin-like crystal trophy that was awarded to the winners. It is still for sale in major Lalique retailers.)

I personally knew Gérard Tavenas, who was then the CEO of Lalique. We worked hand in hand for five years. We both were CEOs, and we could understand one another quite well. When he retired, Lalique was taken over by a glass maker, and he told me that the Trophée would be sponsor free. Then we took over as the main sponsor (in 2004). The move cost us a lot of money, but we also needed to make it a great event and a unique show for the company.

Icenetwork: What did it mean for the Eric Bompard brand?

Bompard: We sponsored skating with pride, and we brought a special image to skating. We not only sponsored the Trophée -- we also gave a special flavor to the event. We even filled the arena, in part, as we brought 1,500 to 2,000 customers to the arena each time.

We really wanted to make the event more than the event itself. One year, we organized a fashion show on the ice, with 40 cover people wearing our whole collection. We were warmly applauded, and could feel that the arena, which was packed for the exhibition, had been moved. That was absolutely magnificent.

The Trophée was exceptionally successful. Being a sponsor is something really important, at least for a company like ours. All our employees came to participate in it, and everybody loved it. They could live the reward of a well-done job.

I am grateful that we achieved what we wanted to achieve. We did the best we could to satisfy a demanding audience. There's no pride there, only the hope to reach the top of one's wish. It was never easy, but we managed it.

Icenetwork: Did you also sponsor some skaters?

Bompard: At one point, I decided to support Brian Joubert's sports life. He was a world champion and was extremely famous in France, and he wanted to maintain his status. Listening to him, I understood that he was always unsure of the quality of his training, especially since he wanted to be trained by the best coaches in the world. I understood that helping him financially would help him competitively. The support we gave him was purely a matter of sport, and we never expected to get one more client through that. We did it just to support someone who needed it, and who was working an awful lot to remain at the top. 

Icenetwork: Were you a sportsman yourself?

Bompard: I did many sports, from rather poorly to rather well, and even better sometimes! I played tennis, golf, skiing and horse riding, among others, throughout my studies and military service. I loved it. It was leisure for me, but at the same time, I was doing it quite competitively: Reaching a result required an effort, and I badly wanted the result, so I was putting a lot of effort into it.

When the company started growing, I couldn't participate in sports competitively, but I had the means to participate financially. I told myself that the company was mine, and that I could turn a sponsorship into an event for the company. That's what I did.

Icenetwork: What is your greatest memory of the Trophée?

Bompard: There are many! We used to offer a cashmere pullover to the winners. I remember those I gave to Sasha Cohen, Alexei Yagudin, Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat, and many others!

I was thrilled to award prizes to exceptional people. I was never an expert, but Yagudin was certainly one of the best sportsmen we had. His visibility on the ice was just superb. Joubert was excellent, too. I was very happy to see the Russians and could witness the first victories of Asian skaters. They brought a new dynamic to skating and to the Trophée.

Icenetwork: And your worst memory?

Bompard: Undoubtedly, the tragedy France endured one year ago. One hundred eighty innocent people were assassinated in Paris in the terrorist attacks. That tragedy was extremely harsh for all of us. We all were mashed by it. That will remain as our worst memory, and, of course, that goes far beyond any sports competition itself. France was attacked, and we had to live (through) the worst of human suffering, even though fortunately none of us was hurt.

Icenetwork: What is so complex about sponsoring an event like the Trophée?

Bompard: Looking back, I just did like the motto of the army division I was in many years ago: "I dare." I dared embarking into the Trophée. You have to understand that the Eric Bompard company is a small company; we are only 400 employees worldwide. When we started in 2004, we had only 15 Eric Bompard stores. Now we have 58 around the world, mainly in Europe, China and Hong Kong. You can imagine how much sponsoring and organizing such a great event means in terms of budget for a small company. We do expect a real return from it.

Television is key to that return. Television coverage turned out to be rather good each time, but the schedule of it was extremely complex, and we were never sure that we would eventually get what we needed. A few months prior to the event, we still didn't know what coverage we would get. One year, for instance, a leg of the Davis Cup (the international men's tennis competition) was held exactly on the same weekend as the Trophée. Television was lost and didn't know what they had to cover.

Icenetwork: What made you decide to stop?

Bompard: In 2014, the Trophée was forced to leave Paris, as the arena was undergoing major construction. We moved to Bordeaux. We understood and accepted (it). The arena was not ready on time, and it was empty. Then in 2015, they said it would be held in Bordeaux again, although the Paris arena had reopened. The competition was cancelled halfway (through), after the terrorist attacks in Paris -- except all the funds we had given were not cancelled at all! None of it came back to us.

Throughout last spring, we tried to figure out whether the Trophée would take place at all in 2016, after these two years. We inquired with the French federation. I suppose that people then were focusing on the ISU elections (where Didier Gailhaguet, the president of the French Federation of Ice Sports, was one of the candidates). Nothing came back. We wrote at the start of the summer to say that it was more than time for us to make our own decision and commitment. We got no answer. We couldn't wait any longer, so I decided that we had done our time.

Icenetwork: So you won't sponsor skating anymore?

Bompard: Everything has to come to an end, I suppose. I have no regrets, except the process itself. The pain won't last, but all this could have happened in a much better way.

It's not worth doing all we did to be left out the way we were. Yet don't get mistaken: I really hope that the Grand Prix of France meets with great success. Such a competition is really difficult to organize, and I do hope that it is a real success for everyone. It won't be us anymore, but I may switch my TV set to see the event.

It's tough to pass on after something you've loved with passion. We've done it, and we've done it well. The stitches are still quite new -- now we need time to put order into our files and put them aside.