Why BMW Might Sponsor Sailing. 1

For those of you interested in sports marketing, you might have come across MediaPost. Yesterday’s sports marketing contribution was by Ove Haxthausen, a consultant at Millward Brown Optimor. It’s an interesting point of view from an ‘outsider’ – the writer seems to think that his audience would be surprised to learn that an automotive brand would be interested in sponsoring sailing, despite the heavy investment worldwide by Volvo, Audi and others.

Haxthausen says:

Last February, the America’s Cup trophy returned to the U.S. for the first time in 15 years. …the 33rd America’s Cup was a commercial failure by most measures. It also featured a car maker as key sponsor: BMW.

The winning syndicate, BMW Oracle headed by Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, is estimated to have spent some $200 million on the project. While most of that money appears to have come from Ellison’s own pockets, BMW was also a key stakeholder.

The idea of a car brand sponsoring sailing activities seems counterintuitive. And in the case of BMW, the yacht sponsorship activities seem especially odd in the context of BMW’s dropping of its Formula One sponsorship activities. Formula One was an arguably closer fit with the brand, but it was also a much higher ticket item for BMW, estimated at above $300 million annually.

The idea of a car brand sponsoring sailing is as counter-intuitive as an insurance company sponsoring a soccer team or an energy drink sponsoring a Formula 1 car. It makes no difference what you are selling, it is about positioning, association and relevance to your audience.

Haxthausen reasons for BMW’s involvement in the America’s Cup campaign, leaving aside their sponsorship of sailing in Europe, are:

The 2010 America’s Cup was all about technological innovation and speed performance, key elements for the brand producing the “ultimate driving machine.” BMW has cited the opportunities for leveraging America’s Cup innovations in its cars as a key driver of its involvement.

BMW targets an affluent, well-educated, active group of potential customers, globally. This target not only has an interest in cars and motorcycles, but it also follows golf and sailing; as a result, BMW is involved in sponsorship activities covering all four sports categories.

BMW, a prestigious brand, seeks affiliations with prestigious events. The America’s Cup, which claims to be the oldest active trophy in international sports, still has significant prestige, despite recent controversies.

Sailing is green, and all car companies, including BMW, seek a green image.

The last one is perhaps a little bit debatable. Sailing is powered by the wind, but spending $200 million on a boat that will be sailed 3 times and never used again is hardly an endorsement for efficient use of resources or sustainability.

Nevertheless, BMW have shown a long term commitment to the project and have probably benefited, not just from media value, but significant research developments and IP that could generate direct revenue against the investment in the America’s Cup.

In the 2009 DARK BLUE BOOK, BMW ORACLE lists it’s services as including; “Carbon Construction – composite construction of components and parts”, something that a luxury auto-maker can contribute to and benefit from. Sometimes, sponsorship is not about media, it’s about business partnerships that are not visible to the consumer.

  • Probably a good move. I'm sure they liked the buzz they received with the recent win.