Raising sponsorship for yacht racing in 2011 is not the same as the heady days before the Global Financial Crisis, but there are deals to be done. This is especially true if you understand that the rules have changed and sponsorship is no longer about a brand paying for someone to go sailing. Sponsorship is a marketing option and needs to have a measurable return.
It is important to make this point again in light of the lead up to the start of the Global Ocean Race and the opening of the ‘Race Village’ in Palma last Friday. Organisers have announced that only 6 boats will take part in the race and they blame the economy.
Josh Hall, Race Director of the GOR, says:
“Class40 is very much an owner-driver class with the skippers generally seeking sponsorship only to cover the operational budgets of their campaigns. Whilst this creates a highly-affordable and cost-effective sponsorship profile, the reality of many GOR teams not being able to secure sufficient funding at this late stage is a sign of just how tough the market is in these volatile and unpredictable economic times.”
Herein lies the problem. Why would a brand spend marketing money to cover the operational costs of an owner-driver? Why should a company pay for someone to go sailing around the world? What’s in it for the brand?
Hall might have been counting on a big fleet to deliver value to venue partners, but the race has not managed to capture the imagination of a wider audience. He also blames the economic climate:
“We ourselves have not been able to secure a title sponsor for the event, so we fully understand the position our withdrawals have found themselves in.”
While the Global Ocean Race might find it hard to show that there is an audience that will be watching the race, especially with such a small field, there are new proxies for audiences through social media. Going to a sponsor with an installed base of a couple of thousand Twitter or Facebook followers for example, would show to sponsors that external communication is an important part of the race DNA. This is not the case with the Global Ocean Race.
The numbers are low. Really low. The official GOR Twitter feed has 30 followers. The Official GOR Facebook page has just 275 likes.
It is true that finding sponsorship is harder than ever, but sailors and promoters need to put themselves in the right mindset.
There are still companies looking to use sailing sponsorship as a mechanism to align themselves with certain values. There are industries and sectors that are spending money, but sponsorship is a two-way transaction, otherwise it is just charity.
Painting the hull and putting the brand on the sail is not enough anymore. Sailors and race organisers need to change their approach for the new realities of sports marketing.
Ask not what a brand can do for you – ask what you can do for a brand.
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