Sponsorship Maths of the ‘Oldest Regatta in the World’ – Cowes Week. 10


I’ve been asking a question of several event organsiers and promoters of late. It’s a question that is important when considering how sponsorship fits with sailing. The simple question is – ‘Why do you exist?’

The answer to this question determines how you run your event, from choice of venue and partners to entry fees and timing. The FT has reported that organisers of ‘The World’s Oldest Regatta’ – Cowes Week, are planning to plunder reserves to run this year’s event. The question is – Why does Cowes Week exist?

The eight-day regatta, which attracts 100,000 to the Isle of Wight each August, has been finding it difficult to replace Skandia, who have backed the event in recent years.

Stuart Quarrie, chief executive of Cowes Week Limited, said on Monday it would use up two-thirds of its reserves, increase entry fees and cut costs to guarantee that this year’s regatta went ahead if no new sponsor came forward.

“We have already started to look at what to do if Doomsday came about,” he said, adding that he was confident a new sponsor would be found for 2010. Skandia provided Cowes Week with about £750,000 each year – half of the event’s revenues – and spent the same again activating its sponsorship.

This statement raises more questions than it answers. Why does Cowes Week Limited have reserves? Does this mean that the entrant’s fees of between £220 and £1600 per boat and Skandia’s chunk of money was not all spent? If not, why were they charged so much in the first place?

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Book Now for Sponsorship 101 – London – April 1st

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Regular readers of this site will know that our position is that nostalgia gets in the way of pragmatism in sailing. This is especially true in the UK. Rather than lead with ‘The Best Regatta in the World’ the event goes with ‘The Oldest Regatta in the World.’

Despite the millions of pounds that has been poured into the Cowes economy by sailors and sponsors over the years, the town is barely fit to host a global event of this scale. Local businesses have not worked out how to deal with the huge influx of sailors during events like the Round the Island Race and Cowes Week and the windswept ghost-town that is Cowes for most of the year.

Most sailing events exist for the competitors, but here’s a test – rank in order of importance the following Cowes Week stakeholders:

  • The Competitors
  • The Title Sponsor
  • The Cowes Economy
  • The Isle of Wight Economy
  • Local Residents
  • The Sailing press
  • The General press
  • Corporate Hospitality Guests
  • Others? (Cowes Week Limited)

My guess is that none of the sailors mind if they never see another fireworks display, so why make such a fuss over the pyrotechnical loss? Because Cowes Week is about more than the sailors. So why doesn’t the Cowes community and the Isle of Wight community step up?

The website for the World Yacht Racing Forum states “FACT: Cowes Week adds £20 Million to the Isle of Wight economy in 1 week.” £750,000 invested for £20 Million return seems like a pretty good return on investment, so why are the local business and politicians not providing more support? It could be that a) the £20 million number is a fantasy or b) the Isle of Wight community is complacent and content to take the money from others.

It would be a real shame if Cowes Week dissapeared, but who would miss it? See the list of stakeholders above. Some would, some wouldn’t. How can you convince a sponsor that they are a good match for your audience when you don’t know who your audience is.

The answer to the question ‘Why are we doing this?’ needs to be more than ‘Because we’ve always done it.’

  • Agree with the point but interesting that neither 'Spectators' or 'Social Responsibility/Charity' feature on that list.

    I would have thought they should be key stakeholders and integral to any discussions with potential sponsors.

    Callum

    Chairman Sawadee.com Regatta Samui
    http://www.samuiregatta.com

  • Great point! How could we forget the fans? Well they come last in everyone else’s mind – maybe it’s contagious. My guess is that Cowes Week is not run for the spectators. Why else would the races be held so far offshore? Why else would the Cowes council not allow OC to set up grandstands to watch the eXtreme 40s?

  • This article loses all credibility when the author says that, “Local businesses have not worked out how to deal with the huge influx of sailors during events like the Round the Island Race and Cowes Week and the windswept ghost-town that is Cowes for most of the year”.

    Cowes copes exceptionally well with around 100,000 visitors during Cowes Week, when the local population swells by nearly a factor of ten – how many small towns could handle that sort of influx?

    And how many small towns can boast two supermarkets, a butcher, two bakers, a greengrocer, fishmonger, deli, and a host of other shops all within a couple of minutes walk of the Yacht Haven. Plus, just about all the marine services you need for sail or power boats. Even in the current recession, several new shops are opening in Cowes and the signs are that the town and the Island are set for a very busy season.

    Not only that, but no other sailing venue in the world has a dedicated, highly-popular web site that features video coverage of around 200+ racing events between April and October that bring over 500,000 people into the town. And where else could you find two live streaming cameras covering the four start/finish lines? Or the unique iZone network of 12 HD screens throughout the town, which show same-day event coverage so sailors can race during the day and drink in the pubs in the evening while watching the racing on the screens?

    So come on, Cowes is a very long way from being a 'windswept ghost-town' and it also offers more opportunities for sponsors to engage with the audience throughout the season than any other sailing venue.

  • While the HD screens are an great idea, they don't make up for the teenagers on minimum wage who seem surprised on the last day of Cowes when a crew of 10 orders 10 full english breakfasts and expect to be out of the pub in under 40 minutes. A great website doesn't make up for the only place in walking distance of East Cowes Marina that offers food and drink not opening until 10 on a Sunday morning – 3 or 4 hours after you needed something.

  • Claudia

    I've been to Cowes in October and it is a bit of a 'widswept ghost town' – most seaside towns are in the middle of winter. There are hundreds of towns around the world that swell in population for events. Some do it better than others. Think of Le Mans in France – 90,000 brits alone travel to a field in the middle of nowhere to watch motorsport. Torquay in Australia is dead most of the year, but when the surfing comes to Bells Beach at Easter is is a mad-house.

    Cowes does an okay job, but is that enough? I agree with Sara that 'some' (not all) of the shop owners in Cowes think that sailors are a bit of a nuisence and wish they would go away. They either open late in the morning or stop serving food by 3pm. while this might be a licensing issue and not their fault, it's not the way to run an event the size of Cowes Week in the year 2009.

  • Peter W

    this is sailors living in a bubble again. There are thousands of towns that swell by 10 times the population for sporting events. Le Mans, Glastonbury, any ski resort town, any beach resort town. Indianapolis runs an event with 500,000 people seated in one stadium.

    I think TKZ does a great job, and there are some businesses in Cowes that are exceptional – but they are the exception. I agree with the writer when they say that Cowes Week needs to lose the 'Oldest regatta in the World' tag and start aiming to be the 'greatest regatta in the World'

  • James D

    I'm a big fan of this blog and one of the reasons is that the authors call it how they see it. I've done a few Cowes Weeks – on a small boat, a clipper as part of corporate hospitality, as a spectator on the green and I have also been to Cowes at Easter, during the Round the Island Race and other times of the year.

    There are days when Cowes can be a depressing awful place. Boat gear shops with 60% off sales, gloomy dark pubs and nowhere to escape the cold, wet and wind.

    It's great that companies like Into the Blue, OC Group, TKZ and others are trying to make the most of the opportunities presented by events like Cowes Week. The Isle of Wight councils and some local businesses do need to lift their game though.

  • The comment that Cowes is a windswept ghost town most of the year perhaps was a bit harsh – but like many seaside towns or towns that depend on a seasonal event, Cowes has to try and balance the needs of hundreds of thousands at one time and a relatively small population for the times when there is nothing sailing related happening.

    This year, Silverstone will lose the British Grand Prix. There are many parallels that can be drawn. Silverstone has been overtaken by cities and event promoters that are willing to invest to run truly world class events.

    Hopefully the threat of losing Cowes Week will make the local community, the sailing community and the wider community look harder at the benefits of the event and work harder to make it better. It is not enough to say it offers better benefits than any other sailing venue, but to prove that it offers better benefits than any other venue.

  • I think that article calls it spot on.

    Racing at Cowes it seems as if the sailors are now the least important stakeholder. It is of no coincidence that an ever increasing number of regular solent boats go on charter for cowes week. The amount of money that this can fetch will pay for a year's berthing, sometimes more.

    So we have a situation where an 8 day regatta in the Solent is not seen as a de-facto “championships” by the regular local boats, but as an opportunity to recoup some cash by taking corporate punters.
    And then most of these boats trawl down to Dartmouth at the end of August with their regular crews and really go for it.

    Has to be something wrong with that.

  • Facebook User

    I think that article calls it spot on.

    Racing at Cowes it seems as if the sailors are now the least important stakeholder. It is of no coincidence that an ever increasing number of regular solent boats go on charter for cowes week. The amount of money that this can fetch will pay for a year's berthing, sometimes more.

    So we have a situation where an 8 day regatta in the Solent is not seen as a de-facto “championships” by the regular local boats, but as an opportunity to recoup some cash by taking corporate punters.
    And then most of these boats trawl down to Dartmouth at the end of August with their regular crews and really go for it.

    Has to be something wrong with that.