Round The Island Delivers To Those Who Matter? 4


f-rtiThe JP Morgan Asset Management Round the Island Race is an extraordinary event. Over 1700 boats, more than 15,000 competitors, a race-track that needs to be cleared of cruise ships and ferries that takes in stunning scenery and complicated weather conditions. But despite the rich source of stories and photos, the Round the Island Race seems to miss out on interest from outside the sailing world and the local community.

The 2009 race was not the most exciting ever. Even the relatively light and racey extreme 40 catamarans spent much of the race sitting with both hulls in the water. It was clear early on that no records were going to be broken.┬áLast year, F1 ace Lewis Hamilton ‘crashed’ on the start line and Leopard smashed the record. There were breakages and people overboard and the extreme 40’s were at the very limit of the conditions they were designed for. This year, many of the photographs taken are of pro-sailors eating crisps waiting for wind.┬áBut with over 15,000 competitors on the water, there must be a story somewhere! London’s Sunday papers didn’t agree.

This weekend was busy for UK sports fans. As well as the British Lions playing South Africa, Jenson Button was driving in front of a home crowd in the British Grand Prix. There was horse racing at Ascot and Wimbledon starts today. Add a little bit of cricket and the compulsory off season football gossip and that doesn’t leave much room in the sports pages for a ‘local’ sailing race. We scanned the papers yesterday and couldn’t find anything. Not even a pretty picture of spinakers and the needles.

So there was not a lot of mainstream coverage of the race, but does that matter? Title sponsor JP Morgan Asset Management are probably not using the race to promote to the mass market. As well as the VIP dinner and entertainment for guests, the company gets to activate their brand with flags and signage around the Cowes Yacht Haven, exposure in printed materials and over 1700 boat owners have to put a big blue sticker on the bows of their boat. It’s a niche audience that are well defined and it would be fair to say that if you are lucky enough to own a large sailboat, you might have other assets that need to be managed. To that end, the race is likely to achieve JP Morgan’s objectives.

The normally exciting x40 not so spectacular. Photo by dmfreedom

The normally exciting x40 not so spectacular. Photo by dmfreedom

But is there a trick being missed by others? Let me reiterate that I think that the organisers of the race do a fantastic job at managinng the logistics of the event. It is not a small undertaking to divert the Red Funnel ferries, make sure that competitors have recieved instructions, provide updates of positions and record results. It is a long day that starts early in the morning, and in years where there is no wind, continues late into the night. Most of this effort is focussed on the competitors – and they are what make the race, but on Saturday I was wearing my visitor hat and I have to report that the experience was lacking.

On Sunday, the Volvo Ocean Race ran an in-port race in Stockholm. While there were only 7 boats competing, it was estimated that over 3000 spectator boats lined the course. On Boxing Day in Sydney, thousands of people line the cliffs of the Harbour and follow the start of the Sydney to Hobart Race in anything that floats. Most of these people aren’t really into sailing, but it doesn’t stop them from having pride in the event that is taking place. Is it fair to compare the Round the Island Race to these events? The nature of the race and the local tides force organisers to start proceedings when most people are still sound asleep. Next year’s race will start at 5:30am. The start then is never going to draw huge crowds, but the finish could. Some people take up vantage points at the Needles or Ventnor, but there is no sense of buzz!

Given the resources, it is completely understandable why the Round the Island Race devotes most of its efforts to the competitors. Some more thought though needs to be given to the fan experience. Red Funnel are listed as one of the sponsors of the race, but as I sped towards Cowes on Saturday, 30 minutes before the race start, the announcement over the PA of the Red Jet explained the lifejacket procedure and went on to flog hot drinks. No mention was made of the Round the Island Race.

Walking along the seafront near the start line, the number of times I heard “there must be something on today” was incredible. I can understand someone who is into F1 living in London not knowing that the Round the Island Race is on, but how can someone be in Cowes on the morning of the race and not know?

As a competitor, the Round the Island Race is a great day, no matter what sized boat you are on. Most of the brands out racing on Saturday would have acheived their aims, either entertaining guests or raising money for charity, or building their teams. The weather provided an opportunity for big spinakers with supporters logos to be visable to thousands. The country of Oman showed that their idea for using sailing to promote their sailing heritage and tourism is well founded, winning line honours and grabbing large chunks of the media attention. The race delivers. Perhaps it doesn’t matter that the Sunday papers don’t care.

  • PRPeta

    Thank you for these considered observations. Whilst I was only helping out this year in order to learn the ropes (!), next year I am officially on board, working for the Race Organisers, the Island Sailing Club as its Event Press Officer and I'm very interested to read this type of feedback.

    There is much food for further thought and your comments will be taken on board and I am sure some of the points raised are already on the agenda for further discussion by the organisers and sponsors in their various wash-up meetings. It will be interesting to hear also about the competitor feedback a little further down the line.

    There is always so much more that can be achieved with additional funding as well.
    However, we're right in the thick of an horrendous and unprecedented economic crisis and we should be grateful too and publicly acknowledge the fabulous level of continuing support from this event's title sponsor JP Morgan Asset Management and all of the supporting sponsors, partners, suppliers and a massive group of fabulous volunteers etc.

    In the meantime, (and in my personal opinion) I think it DOES matter that the Sunday papers cover this event. It certainly was a massive w/e of sports and I believe this probably put paid to a certain amount of space that would have usually been given up to the RTIR and blisteringly beautiful images, being used to report on other sporting events.

    I agree that the race organisers and sponsors should perhaps be persuaded to try and do even more to interest the visitors to Cowes by having at the very least some PA commentary covering the starts and finishes (as per that which is supplied for Cowes Week by Cowes Radio). It may only be for one day, but it's a very important one day for everyone concerned to get right – yes, the on-the- water experience is the priority for the race organisers (the Island Sailing Club) but the shoreside experience should also be deemed by Cowes and event sponsors as providing significant additional value. Providing some more concerted local PR beforehand might be the way to go.

    The comment about the Red Jet experience was surprising because these trips to Cowes WERE featuring some really great footage from last year's race which I believe had been organised by the event's title sponsors or its agency. Not sure why the Red Jet would suddenly stop showing it on the day of the event itself!

    BTW, the Independent and Observer both covered the race and I saw one of Thierry Martinez's images was on the front page banner of the Observer (top right) flagging up Bob Fisher's coverage inside. Also, Alison Harper and the BBC Breakfast/News 24 crew and Sunset+Vine/APP worked tirelessly. I know 'cos I was there. Perhaps JPM might consider providing some media stats relating to this event when everything has been evaluated.

    Credit where it is due and certainly to everyone involved in Saturday's event – whether shoreside on out on the water, they deserve a massive round of applause.

    Put next year's JP Morgan Asset Management Round the Island Race date in your diaries now : 19th June 2010.

  • Are you pulling your punches Dave? 'Considered' is not normally your style? A 7:30 start is not easy on Saturday, especially if you were in the beer tent the night before. On a day like Saturday, unless you have a car, there is nothing to do for eight hours while you wait for them to come back around.

    Perhaps some of the more enterprising RIB owners could consider taking people out for an hour at a reasonable rate. Nothing like getting out on the water amongst it.

  • David,

    Valid points applicable to most events. I wasn't there so can't comment on the Round the Island event, but I am involved with the Phuket King's Cup Regatta (http://www.kingscup.com) event in Thailand which has grown from small beginnings to become Asia's larges keelboat regatta. We are always looking for sponsors, and to increase more awareness locally among island residents. The comments you make, while applicable to huge event like this are also applicable to our event too (approx. 100 boats).

    Good to hear others face the same challenges. Now to fix them…

  • David,

    Valid points applicable to most events. I wasn't there so can't comment on the Round the Island event, but I am involved with the Phuket King's Cup Regatta (http://www.kingscup.com) event in Thailand which has grown from small beginnings to become Asia's larges keelboat regatta. We are always looking for sponsors, and to increase more awareness locally among island residents. The comments you make, while applicable to huge event like this are also applicable to our event too (approx. 100 boats).

    Good to hear others face the same challenges. Now to fix them…