How the Extreme Sailing Series brought brands to sailing, and sailing to the people - part 2
At the thin end of the sporting wedge, with more sports competing for fewer resources, the role played by sponsors is radically different. The Extreme Sailing Series has succeeded in attracting and retaining several high-profile partners in its nine-year existence. Several of its major backers discuss what drew them to the series, and what keeps them coming back.
By Adam Nelson
Just hours before Mark Cameron, brand experience director at Land Rover, speaks to SportsPro at the end of June, his company announces a historic title partnership with Ben Ainslie Racing (BAR) for the upcoming America’s Cup. Though the deal includes all the expected branding opportunities, Cameron’s focus was on how Land Rover would activate from a practical perspective.
“The important thing about the America’s Cup partnership with BAR,” he says, “is that we want to partner with properties that give us the opportunity to bring to that partnership our expertise and skills.”
When Premier League soccer giants Manchester United revealed their list of offi cial global partners in 2013 – including Mister Potato, the club’s ‘Official Savoury Snack Partner’ and Beeline, their ‘Official Telecommunications Partner in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos’ – it was met with widespread derision. But it also showed the gulf between the way sponsorships activate and operate at varying levels of professional sport. Farther down the ladder, it is not enough simply to associate your brand with a sporting property: it is often crucial to use such relationships as an opportunity to demonstrate your product.
“There’s a lot in our advanced technology, innovation and engineering teams that we can bring into the Ben Ainslie team,” says Cameron. “We have a whole load of engineers, advanced technologists and designers who can help make a boat go quicker, on top of the talented designers he’s got already, to try and plug some of those gaps – in knowledge, capability and computing power – to help the team, but also to show off what we are capable of. This is about the power of Land Rover to help [BAR’s] efforts in the Cup.”
The BAR link-up is Land Rover’s second in sailing in recent years, after it began as the main series sponsor of OC Sport’s Extreme Sailing Series (ESS) in 2012. In recent years, the ESS has proven to be one of the more successful smaller sporting properties at attracting sponsors, with much of this success coming down to the platform it offers them to showcase their products.
“We’re now in our third season as main partner [of the ESS],” says Cameron. “What we did four years ago was reassess more widely in terms of sponsorship strategy where we wanted to invest and were we wanted the brand to be, and why.
“That was based on quite a lot of statistical analysis about our customers and our target customers and what their passions and interests were. And we were able to identify, firstly, that sailing was a key area, along with rugby and equestrian sports.”
After its sponsorship deal with the Rugby World Cup, sailing is perhaps where Land Rover can be seen to be making the biggest push. The brand does have some history in the sport – during the 1980s it was the title sponsor for the famed Round the Island Race, an annual yacht sprint through the Solent and around the Isle of Wight. But Cameron describes that involvement as “ad hoc”, as opposed to the more deliberate, focused strategy based on statistical market analysis that it has in place today.
“Having decided that sailing was an area we wanted to invest in we went through quite a lot of study and research, spoke to a lot of people who were connected to various things going on in the sailing world,” Cameron says. “And a lot of the roads pointed toward the Extreme Sailing Series.”
Many of the sponsors followed those same roads – first locating sailing as a key area, and then homing in on the ESS after noting its increasing commercial potential. Indeed, a theme among the ESS’s partners is their interests in multiple sailing properties, with several of them having clearly identified the sport as both relevant to their brands and growing significantly enough to be worth their investments.
Of the ESS’ five main partners – Land Rover, SAP, Edox, GAC Pindar and Marinepool – Edox is alone in having the ESS as the only sailing property in its portfolio. The fact that the ESS is sharing sponsors with prestigious long-distance sailing events such as the America’s Cup, the Kieler Woche and the Volvo Ocean Race is testament to the commercial potential investors are seeing in the competition.
For GAC Pindar – the joint venture between Gulf Agency Company Logistics and sailing sponsorship veteran Andrew Pindar – events like the ESS are not just opportunities for demonstrations, but help to create a whole new avenue of business within themselves.
Land Rover has used Extreme Sailing Series events as an opportunity to showcase its products.
“We had the idea of creating this business [GAC Pindar] within that particular niche vertical of marine leisure logistics,” says Sean Bradley, group marketing director at GAC. “A sports programme like the Extreme Sailing Series was seen as an ideal vehicle to showcase our ability in this particular field. So through that [working] agreement and the logistics of moving the equipment around the world, and having our team in it, we were getting the best of both worlds, really. We were able to showcase our expertise from a business point of view but then with all of the branding that we get from having a team there we also benefit from publicity, media, and everything that comes with that.”
Pindar himself, business partner and sailing team head at GAC Pindar, has been involved with sponsoring sailing properties for 35 years, including several round-the-world attempts. In recent years, he says, the tide has turned within sailing sponsorship because of the developments in the way the sport is distributed and viewed.
“A lot of minority sports – let’s remember sailing isn’t football, it’s not cricket, it’s not rugby or motorsport, it’s the top end of minority sports – benefit from social media, where people can elect their own channels of interest,” he explains. Though this helps visibility, Pindar insists it is more necessary than ever for sponsors to engage in the property, to do something more than just put their brand name out there.
“Any sponsorship needs to prove its worth,” he adds. “As much as it can be about media returns, the media return has to mean something, otherwise you’re just shouting into the big blue yonder. [GAC Pindar] have got two different hats on here. We have a team in the event, and we have the logistics contract. We had a team in the event before we won the logistics contract. So there’s a business there and then there’s business promotion here, but they have to combine at some point. We’re promoting a business by showing what we can do out there on the water.”
“At the end of the day, it’s all about interesting content. It’s in our objectives to connect the world of Land Rover to a sailing property.”
Andy Tourell, event director at the ESS, concurs. “Having an event partnership, and the power that a human story brings, that a team brings… having those two together is really complementary,” he says. “You get the exposure through the event and you get the human story through the team, and when the two come together it’s really powerful and you can see that demonstrated by the fact that half of our series partners also have a team.”
The ‘human story’ is one of the main drivers of the social media revolution in sponsorship of smaller properties – particularly within an image-friendly sport like Extreme Sailing. As Pindar points out, “the ‘extreme’ dimension of it makes it very exciting: it generates images, and images are very important. Photographers are fascinated by seeing these boats skim through the air; this is a sport which really responds to that kind of imagery.
“If you can get the YouTube hits, the Instagram hits and everything else like that,” he continues, “then suddenly you’ve got a very different measure to, ‘How many column inches have I got in the Daily Telegraph?’”
For the ESS, that measure is clear: 85,000 followers across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Though there is room for improvement, Pindar is less concerned with figures, and more with ensuring that sponsors keep their focus on the real goal.
“It’s about multi-channel communication, because it’s often through traditional media – print or TV or radio – where the content causes people to do a search,” he suggests. “Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, all that stuff, is initially driven by mainstream media and once the people have then got into the new media, then sometimes they might drop the traditional stuff, but they reinforce one another. Woe betides you if you think you can do away with any one channel of communication.
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“I see far too many people who get carried away by the property that they’ve got, or they get hung up on the brand or some technology, rather than remembering what they’re trying to do, which is sell more stuff. We’re not here to have sport for sport’s sake. Sport is a tool and the stories around sport and the imagery around sport are the tools that allow us to sell more of something.”
The sponsors themselves have their part to play. By sharing images with their existing audiences and by encouraging crossovers – as in Land Rover’s work with both BAR and the ESS – they contribute to what Pindar describes as ‘the virtuous loop’ of sponsorship, where every element feeds into every other and, as he explains using an apt metaphor, “that rising tide will lift all boats”.
“OC Sport are good at helping the individual companies and sponsors to work on that to promote their own products, and through that promote the event as a whole,” he says. “There’s a mutuality to it. And that enables you to have that virtuous loop which means that every time you’re doing something well, you’re feeding your own position as well as everyone else’s.”
Cameron says, “At the end of the day it’s all about interesting content. It’s in our objectives to connect the world of Land Rover to a sailing property; it’s about finding those connecting points. The tip-over angle on an Extreme 40 boat is about 40-41 degrees, which is exactly the same as on one of our Land Rovers. So you can draw some very interesting parallels, just trying to explain beneath the surface what these two worlds are about – interesting facts and content.
“Social media is obviously about being ‘of the moment’, so when there are interesting things happening in a race or before a race, we try to work out stunts that we can to produce and get that out there to the huge numbers of followers that we have on our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Flickr. Actually, some of the pieces we do around sailing get more interest than some of the traditional stuff we do.”
GAC Pindar – a joint venture between Gulf Agency Company Logistics and Andrew Pindar - is one of the ESS’ five main partners and also backs a team in the series.
Balancing major sports sponsorships with those at a lower level, Cameron says Land Rover is “clear that the Rugby World Cup and the ESS serve very different objectives”.
“Obviously,” he adds, “the investments we make in a massive event like the Rugby World Cup are more than we’d make in a niche event like sailing. It’s about setting out your objectives and then understanding what you’re going to measure. The great thing about sailing is that not only do our customers enjoy it but, given that we make fantastic tow cars, customers who have their own boat can tow it so there’s a product connection there as well.
“We also do product demonstrations on site at ESS events. We have an obstacle course for the Land Rover, which is quite a ‘wow’ experience. So we’ve got some good ways of creating customer engagement in the product which we can utilise. Rugby doesn’t quite give us that same connection, but it gives us massive reach.”
For all the technological development and changes in the way the sport is distributed and consumed, Pindar acknowledges the importance of doing the basics well, and making sure you’re always connecting with the human story. Mark Turner, executive chairman at OC Sport and one of the founders of the ESS, was the brains behind marketing Ellen MacArthur’s solo round-the-world expedition. As far as Pindar is concerned, that is the model to follow.
“If someone is going to do something spectacular, sail around the world, then that will draw media attention and there’s a value attributable to that,” he argues. “That’s what Mark Turner did with Ellen. If you get this incredible and diminutive woman to sail an amazing boat and do very well in races, and smash world records, then the media would follow, and therefore it became a sponsorable property.
“It’s important to reflect back on things that were being done very well 25 to 30 years ago that people have almost forgotten about,” concludes Pindar.
“People have got themselves too wrapped up in technology thinking that HD TV might be the answer but at times a crackly line with Ellen Macarthur in tears is just fine. It’s almost better than HD TV, because it’s about the raw emotion, the things that are going to cause people to remember a moment.”
An enormous part of the ESS’s success with sponsors is its ‘Extreme Club’ VIP centre, the pavilion within the stadium where sponsors and their guests can gather, share ideas, and put on product demonstrations for the public.
Andy Tourell explains that the idea to create an “open-plan networking facility” at each act was central to the commercially funded nature of the series, in ensuring sponsors would want to keep coming back, and keep bringing guests with them.
“There’s a lot of overlaps and conversations that spark from guests turning up here and wanting to be involved,” he says. “Over the weekend we expect north of 50,000 from the public. It’s not just about sailing, it’s about putting sailing in a package that’s appealing to the public. So we’ll have BMX demonstrations, high-wire events, go-karting, food and drink stalls,” says Tourell. “It’s about creating a family day out so they come down and see the racing and understand the racing.”
Spectators watch the day’s racing from the Extreme Club, one of the Extreme Sailing Series’ key selling points to sponsors and their guests.
Sean Bradley, group marketing director at GAC Pindar, describes the Extreme Club as a “fantastic platform to be able to entertain VIP guests and also rub shoulders with VIPs from the other leading teams, like SAP and Red Bull, for example. It’s a great platform to be introduced to like-minded businesses and to seek new business opportunities as well.”
Andrew Pindar says, “95 per cent of our guests are not from my niche of marine sports, they’re from the other areas GAC works in. In the promotional side of it I want to deliver for GAC and our co-sponsors great value; that they know they’re winning more business and greater traction with their customers. The Extreme Club is great because we can guarantee our guests will have a fantastic experience even if they’re not interested in sailing when they arrive.”
This feature, titled 'A rising tide', appears in the August 2015 edition of SportsPro magazine as part of a report on the business of sailing. Read part one here, and subscribe to the magazine today here.