Q: Why sponsoring an ocean racing project rather than an other sport?
A: There are many aspects that are unique to ocean racing, and which make it contributing to making it a viable sponsoring investment.
Firstly, the length of some events such as the ocean race or the Vendee Globe or the Ocean Race has no precedent in other sports in terms of endurance, making it ideal to sustainably engage with a global audience through traditional and social media.
Secondly ocean racing credibly combines performance and technology to sustainable energies. No other sport does it so convincingly. Should the theme of sustainable development be a significant component of the communications strategy and/or the CSR of your company, it would be wise to investigate what an engagement of your company in professional sailing could look like.
Q: What are the differences between offshore racing and round the buoys racing for sponsors?
A: From an outsider perspective, the two types of yacht racing may look very similar. Both leverage high-tech innovation and the wind—a renewable energy— to perform.
They are actually very different in terms of ethos, and both have strengths and weaknesses, which sponsors need to bear in mind. In summary:
Offshore racing core sponsor-value lie in its capability of telling a human story. The hardships of sailors pushing extreme yachts in hostile and remote environments are easily understandable to a non-sailing audience. As a result this types of programmes are relatively easy to activate to ensure that the sponsor’s audience receives the message. This is amplified by the fact that some ocean races benefit—with some regional differences—from an exceptional level of media returns. Ocean races such as the Vendee Globe, The Route du Rhum or the Ocean Race—former Volvo Ocean Race—fit in this category.
Round the buoy racing core sponsor-value typically lies is in its capability of bringing VIP guests close to the action in very exclusive settings. The subtleties of inshore racing may be hard to grasp for an audience outside the sailing inner circle. However leading inshore sailing properties, in the wake of the America’s Cup, now offer real time tracking of competitors and visualisations that greatly facilitate the engagement of a non specialised audience.
Q: Shall I expect quick returns or long-term gains from investing in an ocean racing project?
A: You would be lucky to yield massive returns (media, etc.) from a one-off project around a discrete event, no matter how much media clout this event may have. That possibility would almost certainly be tied up to a strong performance, which would be a bit of an unwise gamble from a business standpoint. Sponsors squeezing the most value from their investment in professional sailing are those who have consistently been present over time, occupying their vertical market by being ‘the actor’ associated with the values of ocean racing – This strategy is about being a big fish in a small pound, and has proved successful in many other business contexts! Long term sponsor to skipper relationships emphasise the importance of telling a story of which breakages and counter performances are also part of. Such type of association include, to name all but a few, Alex Thomson/Hugo Boss, Thomas Coville / Sodebo or the Franck Cammas / Groupama relationships. I each of these cases, overtime, the skipper literally has becomes an integrated part of the company and a highly bankable brand and corporate ambassador
Q: Can my company benefits from tax relief for sponsoring an ocean racing project?
A: Possibly. In order to encourage corporate investments in causes for the common good, most legislations in the UK, France or the US, will offer tax optimization schemes if the ocean racing project operates under the name of a charity or a foundation. Some Vendée Globe or former Volvo Ocean Race projects follow that model with the sponsored yacht branded under the name of a charity or foundation supporting a cause related to the common good e.g. awareness for ocean plastic pollution, educating about such diseases, etc.
The potential flip side of that option, of course is that the visibility of the project transferred from the sponsor to the cause. Therefore, the organisation financing the project must assess the suitability of such option in the light of its strategic objectives. In a nutshell, if the prime business driver of the sponsoring programme is to promote a specific brand or a product relying on the large media returns of some events, it would seem sensible for the sponsor to retain as much visibility on the boat as possible.
However, if for instance an established B2B business already has close knitted relationships with its clients and institutional stakeholders, the association between the sponsor and ocean racing can easily be established with a lightweight activation. In this instance, if the prime business drivers of the sponsor are for instance to solidify relationships with its key clients and/or reinforce internal cohesion, operating the ocean racing programme under a philanthropic organisation can be very engaging, and potentially be linked up with the sponsor’s core CSR themes.
There is no one size fits all type of answer, and this case-by-case basis. The starting point should be as ever, the communications strategies and its priorities of the sponsor
Q: One-Design classes or development classes, what is best for sponsors?
A: This has been one of the most heated debates in the professional sailing circles for sometime. As an introduction to this point, one-design means that all the vessels in a fleet race are strictly the same. With Development classes we are looking at fleets of prototypes resulting from an R&D and a built effort. From the sponsor’s perspective, both options have upside and downsides.
One-Design ocean races such as the latest two editions of the Volvo Ocean Race, the Sail GP, or La Solitaire du Figaro offer a level playing field between competitors. Those boats are normally built with a reliability level against breakages that can be set quite high, and can be raced at an operational cost benefiting from economies of scale. There remain of course, budgetary discrepancies between teams, but in the instance of one-design classes, the best-funded projects will tend to further invest in the preparation and training, rather than R&D and Design. There are also a all host of one-design inshore—round-the-buoys—races the dilemma to a sponsor a exactly the same – Such races include the very hyped and new Sail GP, the GP32 circuit, or the emerging Super Foiler Grand Prix.
Development Classes deliver value to sponsors in a very different way. Examples of such races are of course, the Vendee Globe, the Ocean Race or the America’s cup. This is applicable both to a new built or to the acquisition of a last generation boat. In the case of the new built of an IMOCA, the 12-18 months of such phase can be a very effective way to start writing the story and activate the programme, way before the pick of media returns in major races. This is particularly effective for engaging early with technically oriented stakeholders—clients and/or employees—who are easily captivated with the innovation, high-tech and technical management of the programme. Much of the same can be argue in favour of last generation vessels acquisition which will regularly go back to shed for optimizations e.g. foils, rigging.
Q: Is sponsoring sailing and ocean racing expensive?
A: This is all relative. The real question should be about return on investment, and the ROI model will be specific to each sponsor, with a relative emphasis on elements such as branding, media-returns, internal dynamics, etc. or a combination of these. On the top end of ocean racing, an IMOCA campaign requires an annual operating budget of around 3 Million Euros, on top of which a certain amount of budget will have to be provisioned to activate the programme. This activation can range from relatively little, if for instance the sponsor’s prime audience is easy to engage e.g. a staff base. It costs what it costs but remains chicken change compared to sports like F1 where, with an IMOCA budget, you would get very little visibility in the project: a logo on a driver’s helmet, more or less.