Volvo Ocean Race Listens and Responds.

The Volvo Ocean Race has come in for some criticism in recent times, but the organisers have listened and have a plan for the future. While the armchair pundits and traditionalists rock in thier chairs and pine for the ‘Whitbread’, Volvo are showing that they are one of the most forward thinking and competent event organisers in the business.

On Sunday, in Rio de Janeiro, Knut Frostad, CEO of the Volvo Ocean Race, made the first of a series of presentations covering the current state of the race, and looking forward to the next edition, in 2011-12.

Vovlo have compiled a mid-race report showing this Volvo Ocean Race is on track to be the most widely-covered edition of the race in its 35-year history. This will surprise some print media, but thankfully a new generation of fan is interacting in new ways.

Frostad said:

“As modern communications evolve, so too does the Volvo Ocean Race. For this edition we have introduced many innovations: the on board media crew member, shooting and sending footage from the boat in HD, is at the core of everything we do; our mobile channel is a great success – in January the mobile site was hit every single second, for example; and I don’t think any of us anticipated the success of the Virtual Game, which will soon surpass 200 000 players, from nearly 200 countries around the world.”

Before the start of the current race, Volvo affirmed its commitment to the next Volvo Ocean Race which will start in 2011.

“As healthy as the race is now, we know that things are changing all the time, and the Volvo Ocean Race has to evolve if it is to remain at the pinnacle of the professional sailing world,”

“With our partners, the Boston Consulting Group, we’ve run extensive consultations over the past six months with teams, sailors, sponsors, and other stakeholders, to make improvements to the race. What we have come up with, I believe, are the right changes at the right time.”

In the current economic climate, increasing the value of the race is critical. Cost-cutting measures are being evaluated as are changes that will increase the return on investment to sponsors.

For the 2011-12 edition of the race, there will be a tighter restriction on the number of sails the teams are allowed to use. Sail inventory will be reduced by nearly 40 percent, and furling headsails will be introduced.

That in turn will make the boats easier to handle and so the crew on board has been reduced by one. It was also announced that each team will be required to have three crew members who are under 30 years of age when the race starts, compared to the current requirement for two.

“These changes announced today, and the ones still to come, have come to fruition following an extensive consultation process. And each one is measured against three criteria:

– to make and keep the race attractive for sailors,
– to reduce the cost for teams significantly,
– and to increase the return on investment for team sponsors.

If a proposed change doesn’t measure up against one of those yardsticks, we won’t make it.”

Finally, the proposed route for the next race was outlined. Last month The Sports Consultancy called for Expressions of Interest for stopover ports for the next race. To date, an impressive number of cities around the world have responded. Today, the full Port Procurement process was explained.

Although a route has yet to be finalised, the next edition of the race will start and finish in Europe, should have two or three less stopovers compared to the current race, and the total time for the race should be about one month shorter. It is expected that the full route for the 2011-12 race will be announced in the first quarter of 2010.

“We are hoping to build on the success of this edition of the race, which visited ports in Asia for the first time. The stopovers in India and China have added a new dimension to the sport side of the race, and have been important in terms of bringing sailing to a new audience. We want to build on this next time around.”