Extreme Sailing Series Europe 2010 Open For Entries. Calendar TBC.

For the last few years, professional commercially backed sailing as a media friendly event has had two stand-out performers – the Volvo Ocean Race and the Extreme Sailing Series Europe (previously known as the iShares Cup). The Extreme Sailing Series Europe (ESSE) has all the elements to make it attractive to sponsors, media and a more mass-market audience. The boats are fast and exciting to watch, the races are held close to shore against unique backdrops, some of the sport’s top sailors compete and innovations like the 5th man VIP position have been copied by several other sailing events to give sponsors a real differentiator from sitting in a stadium.

[cleeng_content id=”771268515″ description=”99 cents or 10,000 hours. The path to being an expert can be easy or hard. ” price=”0.99″]Yesterday, the ESSE issued their notice of race and opened the event officially for entries. Of a potential six races, five are yet to have specific venues attached to them and only one (Andalucia) seems to be the same as 2009. In an environment where sponsors are risk-averse, consistency of events and locations is key to providing long term stability. With the absence of a title sponsor and an unconfirmed calendar, the ESSE will be a harder sell in 2010.

With or without a title sponsor, OC Events have shown that they can put on great events. Just as the company is self-funding the embryonic Asian series, the ESSE can still deliver exciting sailing. Mark Turner, CEO of OC Group said in the statement:

“We continue negotiations with various potential main partners to support our long term plans for both the European and Asian series. However, securing new partners before the European season kicks off is not absolutely necessary and won’t affect our plans for 2010 – this year will be another spectacular season of Extreme 40 racing, racing that continues to change the way sailing is seen. We are keen to grow our original brand – Extreme Sailing Series – regardless of developments on the sponsor front as we go through the year.”

One of the ways in which the ESSE is trying to be more sponsor friendly is to change the rule relating to branding of the boat and sails. The sail branding rules have been amended one step further for the season, as planned when the 2009 50% branding rule was introduced. Race Director Gilles Chiorri said:

“Looking back through the photographs and TV footage from 2009, it was clear that the boats with their sails 100% branded were the most dynamic and stood out amongst the fleet, therefore we have introduced a new rule for 2010 that all boats’ mainsails shall be 100% branded, so that there is no penalty on the teams already doing this.”

Notably absent from the proposed calendar is Cowes Week (Though one of the proposed dates does fit). Mark Turner has publicly said that the destination on the Isle of Wight where OC is based is not economically viable for the Extreme Sailing Series. Commenting in Island Business Online Turner said:

“The business model doesn’t work without venue host deals for us. We are investors, always have been, we take risks, we do things a bit quicker than perhaps a bigger business might do, or whatever. So we’ll quite often start and kick start things if we’re in the right venue. But its not sustainable to continue with venues that don’t necessarily want us there.

“The average each of our events contributes (to a venue) is a seven figure sum into that economy, be it through direct spend, be it through media coverage, be it through developments that happen because of the high quality people we’re bringing into the circuit. In terms of the Cowes event specifically being inside Cowes Week we’re looking at something like two-thirds of the media coverage for the entire Cowes Week is coming from our event. That in itself has a direct impact on what Cowes Week can do in the future as well.”

Despite the professionalism and commercialism that OC Events brings to sailing; not being able to announce a full calendar makes it difficult to convince sponsors that ESSE is akin to a high-end motorsport series or any other competing sponsorship platform. The markets in which the events take place have a huge bearing on whether or not the sponsorship is a good fit with a brand.

In order for ESSE and other sailing events to be taken really seriously, there needs to be long term storytelling consistency. The dates needs to be in the diary every year. Same Extreme 40 time, Same Extreme 40 channel. With many European companies closing off sponsorship budgets at the end of November, the announcement of a partial calendar in late January increases the level of difficulty by a significant factor.

The calendar as announced yesterday looks like this:

There will be  five, possibly six event weekends at iconic venues and cities in locations including the UK, France, Germany and Spain.

  • Event 1: 27-30 May  – LOCATION TBC
  • Exhibition Event: 19 June: J.P. Morgan Asset Management Round the Island Race
  • Event 2: 14-18 July OR 31 July to 5 August – UK – LOCATION TBC
  • Event 3: 26-29 August – Germany – LOCATION TBC
  • Event 4: 9-12 September – LOCATION TBC
  • Event 5: 23-26 September – LOCATION TBC
  • Event 6: 9-12 October, Almería, Spain

Final venues will be announced one by one over the coming weeks.

Despite question marks over the calendar, the ESSE still provides one of the most compelling marketing platforms using sailing. OC Events will continue to provide a full PR and Media programme throughout 2010 including a host broadcaster service, TV news and a TV series for global broadcast media. The 2009 series delivered a media value for just the six territories the series visited, of over EUR5 million (despite a 10-15% drop in equivalent advertising rates) and the 6-part TV series was aired in 130 countries across 29 international networks resulting in 38 hours of TV programming in one month.

Off the water, the teams, sponsors, media and VIP guests will be hosted and entertained in bespoke hospitality facilities offering teams the opportunity to mingle with their guests before and after sailing in a choice of settings, from general access to made-to-measure private corporate entertainment suites.

The closing date for entries to the 2010 series is 15 March 2010.[/cleeng_content]