Photos: Visionhaus/World Yacht Racing Forum

World Yacht Racing Forum

Our choice of highlights from this week's gathering of the yacht racing business community

Friday December 17th 2010, Author: James Boyd, Location: Portugal
This week’s World Yacht Racing Forum once again provided a useful end of season gathering of the yacht racing community. The principle difference with this year’s event and the two WYRFs that have gone before, was the change of venue from Monaco to Estoril, close to Cascais on the outskirts of Lisbon. Feedback from the delegates we spoke to gave the Forum’s new home within the Estoril Congress Center a unanimous thumbs up. Those taking part in the two day long event were principally divided between the main Forum itself, where, as always, the fundamental underlying theme is ‘steering the business of yacht racing’ and the more hardcore Design & Technology Symposium, which does very much what it says on the tin. A full report on what went on is beyond the scope of one article - the only way to fully appreciate the amount of ground covered at this event is actually to attend it. We are told by the organisers that around 400 delegates were in Estoril and while the main Forum seemed slightly thin on numbers compared to last year (perhaps the auditorium was larger), we thought the Design & Technology Symposium had a larger attendance this year. While trying to maintain the commitment of keeping a website up and running, we found ourselves flitting between the two groups with the most troublesome clash being – would we join the techies to hear the latest on ‘advances in composite technology and structural engineering’ including speakers such as ex-McLaren composite expert Dan Primose (wandering around with a satchel full of cool-looking exotic laminates) and Andrew Macfarlan of Red Bull Technologies (ie F1) or stay in the main hall to hear about ‘Cost Effective strategies to grow new audiences via television and new media’, something perhaps closer to home for our own business? In the end the latter won and we got to hear valuable presentations including those of two significant figures from outside of our sport: Michel Masquelier, the President of IMG Media, the world’s largest independent producer and distributor of sports programming and Maria Ferreras, head of partnerships, Southern Europe, Middle East and Africa, for YouTube. Masquelier delivered the warning that a recent study had shown that more 16-21 year olds spend their Friday nights playing games on line than watching television. But perhaps most scary was his slide showing the number of delivery mechanisms now available through which video/TV can be viewed – around 20 or so. When it comes to rights for major sporting events these are also now highly diverse from pay or free to online, smartphone, social media, iTunes, Google TV, cinematic, fixed media rights, news streaming, betting, etc. Reassuringly for ourselves, another slide Masquelier showed indicated that while advertising in traditional media continues to drop, advertising on the web is forecast to increase by more than 100% over the next three years. YouTube’s Maria Ferraras confirmed the monumental scale of their business - 450 million unique monthly users worldwide, 35 hours of video uploaded every minute, 2 billion clips watched daily, 50% commented upon, 2 billion videos monetised, etc. She showed a time-based graph of size of advertising spend in the various media showing that in six years internet advertising has reached the same level as cable, only cable started out in 1970. With the prospect of events being able to monetise their presence on YouTube, the ever increasing merge of internet and television (as well as all the other potential delivery mechanisms mentioned by Masquelier, many with YouTube apps), modern TV sets being equipped to show streamed video from the internet, etc we feel it is inevitable that the number of people viewing TV over the internet will soon be rivalling the figures for those watching conventional broadcasts. However Ferraras denied that YouTube will become similar to a conventional broadcaster in, for example, creating its own programmes. “We are a platform,” she stated, “we work with many broadcasters.” Another point discussed among this group, that included sailing media guru Marcus Hutchinson and Adam Binns, Director of Television for the Volvo Ocean Race, was why in media evaluations 100,000 television eyeballs still have a higher value placed on them than 100,000 internet eyeballs. This seems to remain a fact which no one had a good explanation for. Keynote speeches were delivered to the Forum by James Spithill and Loick Peyron. Spithill took the opportunity to present the reasoning behind the dramatic changes underway for the 34th America’s Cup and concluded with a more impassioned explanation of why they want to introduce the Youth America’s Cup – the kind of break he got from Syd Fischer to helm Youth Australia in 2000... “this sort of an opportunity is just so rare nowadays. Owners now go straight to the top guys. They want the best experience they can hire. So it’s really difficult for a young person to figure out how to get into the game. “One of my big frustrations is when a youth sailor asks me for advice about how they should plan to get into the America’s Cup is that there is no obvious answer. In the past, the match race circuit provided some sort of path but nowadays there seems to be very few of people coming from the match race circuit with big boat experience or One-Design fleet racing World Championship boat speed skills. Such skills are the building blocks of being a successful America’s Cup sailor. For today’s young sailors dreaming of being the next Russell Coutts we need to replace luck with a structured career path.” See the full speech here: Richard Moore, CEO of Capitalise, a marketing, PR and sponsorship company that operates in the sports and entertainment fields, provided a valuable contribution, chairing the Forum’s first session on ‘How Can Sailing Compete for sponsorship again mainstream sports’. Moore sails himself and his company works with Puma on the Volvo Ocean Race and more recently has become involved with the World Match Racing Tour. According to Moore the sponsorship market is now recovering from a flat 2009 back to hitting its pre-2008 levels of £32 billion worth of annual revenue. Accountancy firm Price Waterhouse Cooper is forecasting a 4.6% growth over the next three years, as Moore put it “greater than our brothers in advertising”. Among the trends Moore pointed out was the development of emerging markets such as Russia, which recently won the bid to host the FIFA World Cup in 2018 and Brazil, set to hold the Olympic Games in 2016. Then there is China and perhaps India, now ‘exporters of sponsorship’ - examples include Chinese sportswear manufacturer Peak, signing a five year sponsorship deal with the Women’s Tennis Association and Yingli Green Energy, a sponsor of this year’s FIFA World Cup. In the UK, it has been the banking sector that has been quickest to return, HSBC signing deals in rugby while Barclays spent £25 million backing Mayor of London Boris Johnson’s bike campaign. Another source of sponsorship has been ‘sovereign wealth’, examples being the Qatar Foundation’s $200 million backing of Barcelona FC or the Abu Dhabi United Group for Development and Investment buying Manchester City FC. Moore’s panel included Pau Serracanta, Managing Director of Dorna Sports SL, which has held all commercial and TV rights of the MotoGP World Championship since 1992, and the more familiar figures of OC Thirdpole’s Mark Turner and Andrew Pindar. Turner re-iterated yacht racing’s USP – that corporate guests and members of the public sail on board the boats and experience the racing first hand. “Sailing is a very flexible offering. The flip side is that it is hard to understand what you should be selling. A sponsor or a city is used to something more structured. The value of sailing is that you can customise it. The rules are not so rigid.” One of the hard parts is that sailing has a lot of races, but not much structure and it is hard from those outside of the sport to comprehend the status of events, Turner continued. “We have the Cup and the Volvo Ocean Race, but beyond that it gets hard for people to understand.” Andrew Pindar felt that not enough was being done to promote talent and individuals within sailing. “You get the odd name, through the Olympics, when the media get behind an individual. We don’t know about some of the great talent that is available.” Pau Serracanta talked about the case of MotoGP super-star Valentino Rossi and how they had tried to maximise his natural personality. Richard Simmonds, link man for the WYRF later asked for suggestions as to who might be sailing’s equivalent. Ellen MacArthur was top of the list. In terms of nurturing talent, Serracanta said that MotoGP invest a lot of time trying to identify talent and the governing body pay some to go racing. Perhaps that should be mentioned to ISAF. Other numbers to come out of this session included some from Serracanta who said that a top sponsorship in MotoGP would amount around 20 million Euros, 15 spent as title sponsor of a team and the rest on supporting events. The presentation from Octagon’s Head of Athlete Representation, Clifford Bloxham, caused some of most entertaining subsequent debate over the Multi One design sponsored lunch on day one, when he advised that leading sailors should not only be creating their own brands and logos, but have their own nickname or catch phrase! He provided logo examples of jockey Tony McCoy, ballerina Darcey Bussell and Chelsea FC’s Daniel Sturridge. Then he cited former England rugby player Jason Robinson, aka ‘Billy Whizz’. “We did a series of cartoons with the Beano and built his profile that way,” recounted Bloxham. “He started to writing columns for Meteo and Teletext, then his performance warranted we were able to move on to the Daily Mail. It was just building his profile.” If there was a lesson to have come out of Octagon’s sole sailing client, Ellen MacArthur, it is: ‘be true to yourself’. “New media is absolutely critical,” added Bloxham. “It allows athletes to talk direct to their fans and media. In the sailing world I’d say it is the number one thing.” The first afternoon session on day one was ‘how can sailing events create brand partnerships’. Volvo Car Corporation’s Director of Global Sponsorship and Brand Partnership, Karin Backlund, made her case and was followed by Stewart Hosford, now CEO of Alex Thomson Racing. Hosford, formerly from the Royal Bank of Scotland, spoke about the lengths they have gone to to evaluate the Return on Investment for Alex Thomson’s sponsor, Hugo Boss. Essentially every aspect of their program from basic media return to corporate hospitality to every Facebook fan to Hugo Boss’ products such as the Alex 99 sunglasses and regatta watch – everything has a value attached to it, each item often agreed with their German clothing manufacturer sponsor. The most efficient presentation was made by Rob Andrew, Head of Sailing for the London Olympics Organising Committee, who provided much insight into plans for Weymouth for 2012. He compared LOCOG’s task as “like putting 26 World Cups on at once.” According to Andrew, a significant date for him was 15 October 2010 when it was finally decided that for the first time sailing will be a ticketed sport. Much of what Andrew told us we previously reported in our interview with him here. There followed a panel debate chaired by Richard Simmonds including ISAF General Secretary Jerome Pels, Shirley Robertson and a living, breathing member of the IOC – Pierre Ducrey, Head of Sports Operations. This we will look at in more detail subsequently. We have already reported on what was said at the traditional final session on the 34th America’s Cup, where the two groups joined. We have to admit the only session that the only session we attended in the Design and Technology Forum was the awkwardly entitled session on ‘overcoming challenges to produce a winning multihull design for America’s Cup 34.’ This you will be able to read about later this afternoon. In short, the annual World Yacht Racing Forum is an event our sport needs. For sure it perhaps lacks the decision-making power of the ISAF Annual Meet, but it is certainly unmissable for what it offers in education and of course a unique opportunity to network with many of the big players in sailing in a relatively relaxed environment. Feedback we received was that it was mostly those from outside of our sport looking in, who made the most valuable contributions in the Forum and some said it would been value to be able to take part in break-out sessions. We, for example, would have liked to have spent more time getting more information about YouTube. The pricing point for the Forum is also thought to be too high and we expect that there is a sweet spot at possibly half its present level which would entice many more people to attend.    

Latest Comments

  • James Boyd 17/12/2010 - 15:46

    And they need better broadband at the conference centre

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