What is the Future of Sailing’s Premier Events?

World Yacht Racing Forum 2010

World Yacht Racing Forum Panel Discussion.

Chaired by Richard Simmonds of Sunset+Vine APP, this session at the WYRF 2010 featured:

  • Knut Frostad, CEO, Volvo Ocean Race
  • Eddie Owen, CEO, Royal Offshore Racing Club
  • Franck David, Director, Multi-One Design Circuit
  • Jim O’Toole, CEO, World Match Racing Tour
  • Luc Talbourdet, President, IMOCA

Things are changing in sailing. The world governing body is beginning to increase its role in the management of premier sailing events. It’s a bit of a shame that Jerome Pels from ISAF was not on this panel. He was attending the event (and presented as part of the Olympic session) and discussions we had with him about the management of the ‘Grand Prix’ events were encouraging. ISAF is not doing a great job of promoting their initiatives, but we’ll come back to that later.

[cleeng_content id=”540562959″ description=”99 cents or 10,000 hours. The path to being an expert can be easy or hard. ” price=”0.99″]It’s important to note that not all premier sailing events are equal. The panel represented a wide range of rights-holders and promoters who have different audiences and different challenges. While the Volvo Ocean Race and World Match Racing Tour are established events with ISAF special event status, the Multi-One Design circuit is a concept – ‘vapourware’ that is vying for the same audience and sponsorship budgets as IMOCA.

For Knut Frostad, the challenge for the Volvo Ocean Race is to grow mainstream media. The goal for the race is to increase coverage on such channels by 200%. Part of the solution is to look at the way professionals like DORNA do it – ongoing business is based on predictability and long term (8 years +) deals are one way to do that.

The shape of the commercial team is also important to long term success. In the past, sailors like Dennis Connor had to raise sponsorship because if they didn’t they wouldn’t go sailing. The generation behind them were paid by those commercially savvy individuals and therefore never developed the skills to go and raise money.

While there are now 6 MBA programmes in Europe that focus on sport, these new professionals are not currently working in sailing. The Volvo Ocean Race are supporting teams to help raise sponsorship because ‘sailors’ can’t do it on their own.

Luc Talbourdet, President, IMOCA also recognises that for the organisation to be successful in the long term, it needs to raise its profile outside of France. The Barcelona World Race has been part of that strategy – increasing the audience and base of sailors in Spain. Extra races also help to spread the investment in an Open 60 across more media opportunities and increases ROI.

For Jim O’Toole, CEO of the World Match Racing Tour, the raw materials are there. The personalities are there. The sailors are media savvy and those coming up through the ranks are learning as they go. He cites Australian skipper Torvar Mirsky as being the CEO of a multinational corporation. Mirsky has to manage employees, logistics, prizemoney in multiple currencies, tax in multiple markets, media appearances, sponsorship and he has to make sure that the business of the Mirsky Racing Team (MRT) makes more than it spends.

O’Toole and Frostad agree that if sailing is to really make it in the mainstream, then the focus needs to be more on the talent and less on the boats. The stories are the real content.

For Eddie Owen, CEO, Royal Offshore Racing Club, the challenges are different. Sponsorship is not something that they ‘need’ – though he admits it would be nice. The Fastnet Race is one that fits into the category mentioned by Mark Turner, where sailors don’t have any need to communicate with the media. The audience is the sailors. The challenge for RORC is grass-roots participation.

The lack of joining up of the dots seems to be apparent here. The Volvo Ocean Race should be inspiring people to go sailing, and the Fastnet Race should be positioned as a rung along that ladder.

ISAF has started to work together for the ‘Grand Prix’ operators. Meetings have been started around calendar clashes, but Frostad and O’Toole admit that the top players don’t meet often enough.

More World Yacht Racing Forum insight.[/cleeng_content]