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Sailing and Sponsorship – you can’t have one without the other

by Jeni Bone on 7 Jan 2013
CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand, skippered by Chris Nicholson from Australia, lead the fleet in the Bretagne In-Port Race, in Lorient, France, during the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12. (Credit: IAN ROMAN/Volvo Ocean Race) Ian Roman/Volvo Ocean Race© http://www.volvooceanrace.com
MarineBusiness-World Editor Jeni Bone looks at Sponsorship and Sailing.

Recently, a feature piece by the editor of UK consultancy site, YachtSponsorship ran on this and other sites in the TetraMedia group, pondering the pros and cons of sponsorship in the sport of sailing, and lamenting that too often, the branding overshadows the sailors.


It was commenting on the 133 page report by organisers of the Volvo Ocean Race, of which a large part was dedicated to the Return on Investment (ROI) for sponsors.

As the author of the article observed 'one of the findings of the report was that sponsors of sailing can get better returns than other sports because the brand-name is mentioned more than the names of the athletes.

He goes on to quote the report: 'The Volvo Ocean Race occupies an exceptional space in the sporting world as a major property that is universally referred to with a brand name in the title, while offering similar opportunities for sponsors backing individual teams.

The fact that sailors on board are not generally household names across the world can actually help sponsors too. There is little option for media covering the race but to refer to several brand names whereas in other sport, news organisations work hard to avoid making such references. With the Volvo Ocean Race, such avoidance is not realistically possible.'

The author then surmises that while this sounds good for sponsors, 'it doesn’t sound like something that is good for the sport in the long term, especially if sailing wants to create long term fans'.

He states: 'Fans follow athletes or teams, they don’t follow brands, which makes the situation that the Volvo Ocean Race is currently in a bit strange. Race organisers have announced the first entry for the next race. The entry has a sponsor, but it has no skipper and no team – so where are the fans going to come from?'

Full story: http://www.yachtsponsorship.com/2012/11/is-sponsorship-killing-sailing/

In my experience as a journalist in marketing and media for the past two decades, hearing from the experts on the subject, the onus is on the sport to attract the sponsors and the media, and then leverage the two to catapult their athletes and the sport into the hearts and minds of the public. In other words, get creative.

No sponsorship, no sport.

During the Olympic Games, where we celebrate Herculean effort, regardless of nationality, it's enough to barrack for Australia, go for the team in the Green and Gold - sponsored by the Australian government and a myriad of Olympic Games partners - or do the same for GBR, on USA etc. and then discover the names of the athletes most of us had never heard of in sports we were probably not familiar with.



What's the difference? Sponsors, patrons, team owners underpin every sport, from grass roots to the pinnacle of their pursuit. How else can players and participants afford to compete? Ask Rolex, the timekeepers for sailing, tennis, skiing, golf, motor sport, equestrian, the arts and exploration.

www.rolex.com/en#/world-of-rolex/sports-and-culture

Chris Styring, General Manager at Sweeney Sport & Entertainment, says there is no doubt the Volvo Ocean Race and other high profile international sailing events such as the America’s Cup offer great value to sponsors and commercial brands at the expense of the individual athletes, in this case key crew members.

'With events such as the Volvo Ocean race, the boats are the heroes not the athlete and the focus is more around the technology and innovation that goes into the boats despite the fact that these crews are super fit, full time athletes much like any other sports people at the elite level.'

And he agrees with the YachtSponsorship article that people follow athletes not brands. 'However it missed the point that people purchase brands and are significantly influenced by seeing certain brands within the context of sporting events or linked to their favourite athlete,' Styring points out.

'People are often driven to purchase aspirational brands they see displayed at their favourite sporting event or worn and endorsed by their favourite athlete. If this were not the case, the entire sports marketing, athlete/celebrity endorsement world would cease to exist.

'These days with the ever increasing costs of sport, particularly high tech sports such as sailing, sponsorship funding is vital but the key is to find a balance that gives the fan someone to follow and the commercial partner a platform to promote their good or service off the back of the association.'

Styring refers to Formula One which he says 'seems to have struck a sound balance with high visibility for brands on cars, driver and team apparel that gets picked up by the enormous global TV audience the sport nets whilst continuing to make the driver the focus and hero'.

'F1 fans tend to follow the drivers not the teams however a winning team will offer a brand a following that is almost without parallel.'

Like Formula One, ocean racing like the VOR – the world’s toughest and longest sailing race – is not intended to drive people to rush to join the sport at that level.



But rather the event should aim to enervate the public with an epic tale of a top-class battle on the high seas. This the VOR did admirably for the 2011-12 event, disseminating the right information supporting each leg to generate a buzz in each port and around each branded boat - the identities onboard included in that.

The VOR sailors became stars to the broader public as we came to understand their feats. The crews and their credentials became of interest as the race gathered momentum. Each boat was imbued with its own identity, composed of a mix of nationalities and their achievements as individuals – how many VORs, America’s Cups, Olympic Games, World Championships to their names, their backgrounds and interests.


In 2011-12 VOR , sponsors such as Camper Emirates Team New Zealand, Groupama and Sanya, worked to take their brands to new markets gaining an ROI many times greater than their investment through media exposure they could never buy.

In each port, the media was abuzz with the achievements and trials of each team and the crews gained prominence via interviews with local TV, magazines and radio – as well as, crucially, the multimedia specialist onboard providing non-stop feed via the team’s website and on social media of each leg, the technical challenges, conditions and each crew member’s experience along the way.



Each team’s website reflects the sophistication of the brand’s planning and execution of this facet of their marketing, with 'Who We Are' brand information, 'Meet the Crew' and buy our merchandise highly visible.

We are talking about many millions of sponsorship dollars - between 10 and 60 in the case of the VOR - which goes to funding the crews, support team and managers, advancing the technology, paying for the PR people, the events and consumer marketing for the two or so years of the event. Its naming rights sponsor and event owner is Volvo - a car, truck and engine company, which places a Volvo museum showcasing the brand, its history, technology and latest models at every port. THAT is leveraging sponsorship, reaching the people through the sport.

Like all forms of marketing, promoting a brand through sponsorship is a gradual and repetitive process.

Thus, it is envisaged, sailing and the yachting lifestyle will ignite people’s imaginations and become a desirable pastime – whether that’s following or participating. People will eventually look for ways to access the lifestyle whether it’s through lessons, social sailing, chartering a sail boat or dusting off the tinnie and getting out on the water.



The fact that the first sponsor has signed up for the 2014 VOR, a 'global hygiene and forest company' called SCA to support an all-female team, and this crew could feasibly win (given the variables of tactics, equipment, stamina and good fortune) broadens the race's appeal – dare I say doubles it, for a picky public that has been asking 'where are the women' for many years, according to Richard Brisius, who will manage the team for Atlant Ocean Racing.

The SCA entry, its crew – yet to be selected but at that level, likely to comprise of Olympians, World Champs and seasoned sailors from around the world – will no doubt inspire the next generation of women sailors and give us all another team to cheer for as they limp or cruise victorious in to the next port. Who sponsors them is just a matter of whether that crew flies red, black, green or pink sails with a logo ablaze on them.

It's up to sponsors to leverage their investment with media, events, activities in port, AND it's up to sailing/yachting and event organisers to take advantage of the media interest to promote the virtues of their sport and those competing.

The VOR 2014-15 route will be announced later this month.


Some of the facts that fuel the imagination!

» The Volvo Ocean Race is the longest professional sporting event in the world, a round-the-world yacht race for professional sailors that is held every three years. Each edition of the race lasts around 8-9 months and teams face extremes of temperatures ranging from -15 in the Southern Ocean to 45 degrees at the equator.

» The race began life in 1973 as the Whitbread Round the World Race and is renowned as one of the Big Three events in the sport, along with the Olympics and the America’s Cup. No sailor has won an Olympic gold medal, the America’s Cup and the Volvo Ocean Race.

» Former winners of the Volvo Ocean Race include legendary fgures in the world of sailing including Sir Peter Blake, Grant Dalton, Paul Cayard and Torben Grael.

» The most recent edition, the 11th, started in Alicante, Spain in October 2011 and fished in Galway, Ireland in July 2012. The race also visited Cape Town (South Africa), Abu Dhabi (UAE), Sanya (China), Auckland (New Zealand), Itajaí (Brazil), Miami (USA), Lisbon (Portugal) and Lorient (France) – a total of 10 Host Ports.

» Six teams entered the race, which was won by the French team Groupama, skippered by Franck Cammas. The goal for the next race is to have between eight and 10 teams on the start line.

» For the last three editions, the teams have raced in 70-foot (21.5 metre) Volvo Open 70 racing yachts. For the next two editions, the teams will race in new one-design 65-foot boats (see separate sheet). Male and mixed teams will be limited to eight sailors plus one non-sailing Media Crew Member. All-female teams will be allowed two extra sailors, so 10 plus one non-sailing MCM.

» Uniquely in professional sport, the Media Crew Members are embedded reporters who send back HD video and stills, text updates and audio reports direct from the racecourse. They are not allowed to help out in sailing the boat.

» The race was renamed the Volvo Ocean Race for the 200102 edition. It is owned by Volvo Car Corporation and The Volvo Group.

» The next race will run from 2014-15 and the route will be announced at the end of 2012 or early in 2013.

More at www.volvooceanrace.com

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