World Yacht Racing Forum: The ROI of Hosting Sailing Events?

With the announcement that the 34th America’s Cup will be hosted by the city of San Francisco, it’s a good time to revisit the World Yacht Racing Forum Panel which focussed on the business issues around hosting sailing events.

The panel was chaired by Mark Turner and featured presentation and insight from David Graham, Oman Sail; José Antonio Muñoz, Head of Department, Ministry for Tourism, Trade and Sport, Andalusian Government; Duarte Nobre Guedes, Presidente, Turismo Estoril; Robert Datnow, Director, The Sports Consultancy.

Now that Newport and Rome have built the expertise in bidding for a premier sailing event, they can pitch for several other Grand Prix sailing events that are looking for host city partners.

Mark Turner opened the debate by acknowledging that spectators are increasingly important for sailing events to be commercially successful, but asked – “who’s coming?”

Sailing has traditionally relied upon a network of yacht clubs to provide interest in events, but as the events themselves become a larger part of the revenue stream for promoters, this is not enough.

Based on bidding cycles for the Volvo Ocean Race, Extreme Sailing Series and World Match Racing Tour, there is an estimated 100 cities in the world who are actively engaged in trying to attract sailing events. There are even cities with yachting in their mission statements.

The most obvious benefit of hosting a sailing event is the direct tourism impact. Increased bed nights and hotel occupancy, restaurant and bar receipts and other spending in the market can be attributed to hosting events. Sometimes the link is not linear – one city used a sailing event as a way to promote its cuisine.

But as Robbert Datnow of the Sports Consultancy, who managed one of the largest tenders of this kind for the Volvo Ocean Race says, it’s not just about economic impact. Other benefits include:

  • Showcasing marine infrastructure and industry
  • Social benefits including job creation, youth programmes and education
  • Political benefits.

For emerging markets and cites with a long term event strategy, developing bid capabilities can be a reason for attracting events. Just bidding increases skills and makes cities more ready to host events. This can also have infrastructure benefits.

For Andalucia, who host the final round of the Extreme Sailing Series, hosting the event is important, but so is the sport and the kind of sport. Part of the goal was to position Almeria as a sailing destination. Sailing is an important part of the tourism economy and the costs are cheaper than a major golf event.

The Extreme Sailing Series is akin to the experience of watching the World Rally Championship. The spectators are right up close to the action.

Andalucia estimate that the Extreme Sailing Series event gives the city a 5 times return on investment (ROI) in terms of economic impact. They also estimate a 15% increase in tourism.

For Oman Sail, the development of a sailing programme, which includes sponsorship of competitive teams, creation of sailing infrastructure and the ability to host major events like the Extreme Sailing Series has macroeconomic goals. The country is diversifying its revenues to reduce reliance on oil and sailing fits with an objective to attract premium tourists.

But promoting sailing in emerging markets is not straightforward. When Oman Sail promoted sailing, no-one came. When they promoted football and included sailing as a support act, new spectators were drawn to the sport.

For venues looking to attract events like the Volvo Ocean Race, there are key considerations that promoters are looking for. Increasingly, the infrastructure needs to be in place. This is not just the race village – rights holders are looking for public sector engagement and joined up thinking. This includes tourism, finance and transport.

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