Yacht Racing – The Business of… World Yacht Racing Forum Day One

Sailing is a diverse sport. That’s a blessing and a curse in a world where sponsors are looking for sports that deliver return on investment. While new media should be making things easier, it’s also making it easier for other sports. So yacht racing needs to play to its strengths.

The World Yacht Racing Forum opened yesterday with classical music backing a montage of great sailing footage. It wasn’t all cliche though. Other videos presented throughout the day had hard rock soundtracks and folk songs from Ireland. The message – that sailing is a great platform, but how you use it depends on your partner’s objectives.

Tom Whidden, CEO of North Sails, opened the conference with a look at the sailing economy from the point of view of one of its most diverse players. North Marine Group is a valid barometer of the sailing economy and the numbers presented, though down on previous years, could have been worse. According to Tom, the sport has never been stronger or more visible. While sailing ranks 39th in a list of sports played by Americans in the last 6 months, it ranks 3rd in a list of sports that people would like to play.

The rest of the day was devoted to sponsorship. While most sports have the advantage of ticket or gate revenues, sailing relies heavily on sponsorship. The good news, according to Richard Moore from Capitalise, is that sponsorship spending on sport is up 11% while traditional advertising is flat or declining. The bad news is that sailing gets a tiny fraction of that sponsorship, despite having having a good offer for some sponsors.

The message that sponsorship is ‘not about eyeballs’ seems to be gaining momentum. Most of the day’s speakers focussed on engagement and passion. The old ideas about distribution of content to hundreds of millions of households was debunked.

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be digging deeper into many of the topics covered in more detail, but the message is clear. The tools are available – the sport has many desirable selling points and brands who understand sports marketing and sponsorship can get returns, but promoters and rights holders need to understand their audience.

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