An interesting article about sailing sponsorship in the Financial Times about the move from luxury brands to more mainstream backers. The article has views from Puma, Russell Coutts and the Boston Consulting Group. The mix of opinions was mirrored at similar discussions at the World Yacht Racing Forum a couple of weeks back.
Jochen Zeitz, Puma chief executive, views the move into sailing as a natural progression from the company’s 10-year-old involvement in motorsport .
“Whatever we do starts with high performance, extreme performance, and then we take it to the street,” he says, explaining how Puma develops high-tech clothing for professionals followed by ranges of casual wear for all. “We felt it was time to attack a new sport.”
Mr Zeitz, dressed in informal Puma gear, talks of moving away from a “country club, yacht club kind of approach” to make sailing a more accessible spectator sport for consumers – as with Formula One. “We will have to change the sport of sailing,” he says.
New Zealander Russell Coutts, three times America’s Cup winner and one of the world’s most successful racing skippers, agrees that it is time for sailing to come of age as a commercial sport aimed at television and internet viewers.
“One of the things about sailing is that it creates the images. It makes people dream about certain lifestyles, certain challenges,” he says. “Sponsors have been learning over the years how to use that and leverage it.”
A possible obstacle for the growth of sailing sponsorship is a culture clash between the luxury brands that have hitherto dominated the sport and the likely newcomers pitching for the retail mass market. Bruno Troublé, a Louis Vuitton consultant, famously agonised about the incongruity and predicted the end of the America’s Cup if a pizza company got its brand onto the sail of a competing yacht.
When the economic clouds lift, however, consumer brands, including makers of beer and soft drinks, may be ready to jump on board as yachting becomes ever more accessible to internet users and television audiences.
“The brands that are going to move this are really the fast-moving consumer brands, the brands which are the best globally in terms of marketing to the consumers,” says Rune Jacobsen, the Boston Consulting Group partner and former Olympic sailor who is advising the Volvo Ocean Race on its commercial future.
“We believe that the whole sponsorship market for sailing is quite immature. There’s a lot more to do and a lot more ways to give a much bigger payback to investors.”