What Can the America’s Cup Learn from F1 2011?

Hugo Boss Sponsor Sailing and F1

The new deal America’s Cup, which perhaps for the first time is aiming to appeal as much to spectators as it is to team-owners, has set expectations high with regards to the communication of the event to fans via television and social media.

The entrepreneurial zeal of California is waking up, like a sleeping giant who has been landed upon by an annoying buzzing insect. The land that has ignored sailing as a professional sport while it took place on European soil is being tempted off the Corinthian bandwagon by the promise of billions of dollars of commercial opportunity. Suddenly, people who snubbed their noses at the concept of sponsorship are calling for celebrity ambassadors to promote the America’s Cup around the world.

This weekend, Formula One (F1) will start its 2011 season in Melbourne Australia. Those interested in marketing sailing as a professional sport should pay attention – not to the racing, but to the way the sponsors activate their involvement. It should also be noted that F1 is a highly technical and complicated sport that manages to appeal to a wide audience. (We’re going to revisit the argument that sailing is too complicated soon).

There will be a lot of interesting things tried by F1 teams and their sponsors in 2011. They might not go as far as Major League Baseball who have experimented with pushing the envelope on licensing and according to Darren Rovell, CNBC’s Sports Business reporter:

(The) Best thing MLB has done for licensing $ is allow their logos to be messed with (especially on caps). Other leagues haven’t followed.

One story that has already been promoted is McLaren attempting to improve the racing experience for fans through the mobile platform and its revamped Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team website. It aims to drive deeper engagement with the team’s fans during the season and offer them an accompaniment to watching races on TV.

McLaren also has a long-term sponsorship partnership with Hugo Boss, who are at the forefront of using Social media and digital technology to communicate sailing to fans.

Sports data will be important. There will be an upgraded telemetry data facility – covering raw technical car data, such as engine revs and speed, delivered in real time – to improve the user experience.

Derek Harbinson, head of digital media at McLaren, said that changes to the site were intended to make the brand seem “warmer” online than it had in the past through its digital activity.

“We want to make sure that our digital communications match the standards we have set ourselves in everything else we do.”

As part of the strategy, McLaren is looking to bring fans closer to the team through social media. As well as increasing its levels of activity on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, the team has added a Facebook app to its site that enables fans to discuss the races in real time with friends while watching the live race and data feeds. The site is also optimised for mobile, meaning fans can watch the telemetry data on their handset for the first time.

There is no doubt that Hugo Boss will continue to benefit from their involvement in both F1 and sailing, just as Henri Lloyd has gained significant learnings from their relatively recent sponsorship deals.

So far, the America’s Cup sponsorship landscape looks a bit bare. Oracle gets their logos for ‘free’ and the only other team with a ‘title’ sponsor is Emirates Team New Zealand. Louis Vuitton have 2.1 million facebook fans, but it remains to be seen how many of those the brand can convince to be fans of the America’s Cup.

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