The Commercial Case for Sailing Sponsorship

Sports sponsorship is still relatively misunderstood. To many, there is still an idea that sports sponsorship has more to do with the whims of the CEO or Chairman than it does with marketing and communications. The World Yacht Racing Forum, held in Monaco last week opened with a session devoted to the sponsorship of yacht racing.

The session included several presentations from slightly different stakeholders. First up Richard Moore, CEO of sports marketing firm Capitalize who has a more global view about how sailing fits into the bigger picture. The good news is that despite some firms in America being prevented from using TARP money on sponsorship, spending is up 9.1%. $31 billion of the money spent on sponsorship is spent on sport, though only a fraction of that is spent on sailing.

According to Moore, companies that fit with sports sponsorship and who might be looking to spend money can be found in the sports tourism, data storage and utilities sectors.

The perception of sponsorship and how it is measured is changing. Moore draws a distinction between sponsors who are acting as patrons and those who are using the tools to drive business returns. Sponsors are not venture capitalists, says Moore.

He goes on to say that sponsorship is less and less about eyeballs and more and more about using passion to change emotions and habits. In order to achieve the 6 times ROI that sponsors are looking for, sailing needs to focus on its strengths and remember that often the marketing director will not know or care who ISAF is or what a tack or gybe means. To put things into perspective – in France, sailing is not listed in the top 10 played sports.

So what are the strengths of sailing? Well the sport has “dwell time” – events are long and when coupled with hospitality provide a chance for people to talk, network and do business. Sailing also has stories that speak to wide audiences, but more needs to be done to create passion and fans.

Sailing can be a very powerful platform for doing business though. Its not always obvious why a sponsor is spending so much money, especially if they are a B2B brand. The insight presented at the forum by Richard Brisius from the Ericsson Racing Team reminded us of what sponsors are looking to achieve and how to sell to those needs.

The race off the water is as important as the race on the water. One is for first position and the other is for the customer. This means that the activation that sits around the sponsorship is as important, if not more important than the floating billboard. During the Volvo Ocean Race, Ericsson talked used its two boat campaign to talk to 12,667 target groups and 480 organisations.

As well as the activity on the water, there were round table discussions that brought together key players in the industry. Ericsson provided an environment for CTOs and other industry leaders to talk to each other, positioning the company as a leader. For Brisius, any media value was a bonus. As he said “the business is not happening on the boat, the business is happening in the hospitality unit.”

Similar goals are behind why Volvo does the race in the first place. Karin Backlund from Volvo Cars explained in her presentation that ownership of such a global sporting property allows the company to change the perceptions of customers over the long term. The race also helps to build pride in employees around the world, something that many sponsorship hunters overlook.

Volvo is a brand that has done a great job at being top of mind for one word – safety. Perhaps too good a job. The Volvo Ocean Race is a mechanism to slowly move customer perceptions to thinking of Volvo in terms of performance too. The brand values that Volvo shares with sailing are; Safety and the Environment, design and quality, performance and teamwork. Volvo has traditionally been about rationality. The race adds passion and emotion.

At the end of the day (or race) Volvo have to sell more cars, busses or marine engines. The race is global and therefore taps into the diversity of the Volvo customer base. 10,000 Volvo guests can interact with the brand and the footage can be used at other events by integrating the marketing at Motor Shows.

Volvo get a return on investment of 300-400% in terms of brand exposure and 55% of people are more positive about the brand as a result of the race.

The panel that followed the presentations for this session was a little short, but most on stage agreed that the platform served to win hearts and minds, not eyeballs. There is a sense that sailing is still the “wild west” – that rights management and sponsorship measurement are not fully understood.

One figure mentioned was that HSBC recieve over 10,000 sposnsorship proposals a year. That’s a lot of paper and a lot of competition. Those looking for sponsorship need to understand what brands are looking for and tailor their offer accordingly.