Photo: Ben Radford

Mark Turner interview - part 2

The OC ThirdPole boss discusses the rest of their accounts and talks of the latest trends in sponsorship

Thursday December 23rd 2010, Author: James Boyd, Location: United Kingdom

This article follows on from part one


Commercial teams versus owner-funded

While Turner views the crowd-pleasing spectacle of the Extreme Sailing Series (and the 34th America’s Cup) as the future for commercially-funded sailing, he is keen to point that this in no way affects private owner-funded racing. This represents an entirely different model.

“I think the sport has got potential to make a big leap on in the next few years. More and more professional sailors get the fact that if you are in the commercial part we have to keep on changing and evolving and doing things differently, while if you are in the private owner part, do whatever your private owner wants to do. If sponsors are involved in events then it is a case of living or dying by whether your sponsor gets a return or not. They are so different and the only links between them is event management and professional sailors. If you are a professional sailor you have to choose which you want to do and adapt to that mode.”


Following from their years with Ellen MacArthur and more recently with Seb Josse and the BT Vendee Globe campaign, missing from OC’s portfolio at present is a major offshore campaign. They made a strong bid for the Abu Dhabi Volvo Ocean Race campaign, but ultimately this didn’t come to pass.

“We really wanted to be in this Volvo Ocean Race and we had a couple of shots at that,” says Turner. "Strategically as a business as OC Thirdpole, we want to have a high profile big boat campaign to be out there with a chance of winning on the water. We don’t have that right now, but it is an objective to have that. It’s not out of the question that we end up in this Volvo with a secondhand boat campaign at the last minute, but it will only be with a view to doing a full campaign next time around.

They are also maintaining a weather eye on the America's Cup although as Turner puts it: "It is an amount of money that is impossible to imagine in my view unless you have a core private backer at least underwriting it. We are not in that position today, but we will keep working on that.” They have had representation at the recent Challenger meetings in Paris and Dubai.

“And we are very keen to get an IMOCA 60 and there are other things. It will be interesting to see how the MOD70 develops both from an event and a team front. That has some potential interest.”

OC ThirdPole was recently announced as co-organiser of the MOD70 European Tour 2012 and 2013 for the new generation one design trimarans, the first due for launch in next spring.

“Big multihulls are a great platform,” says Turner, OC having obviously been behind Ellen MacArthur’s B&Q Castorama trimaran and her previous Kingfisher 2 Jules Verne Trophy attempt.

As to their role with the MOD70, Turner says: “They have an investor and have five boats in build, so we have a lot we can do to share some of our experience and help Franck [David] and Marco [Simeoni] to make that a reality. They have some great skippers already signed up and we want to help them make it more international.”

While the MOD70 class has several of the usual Breton suspects signed up, what they still lack is an Anglo-Saxon entry and this is something OC wish to remedy. However as Turner puts it: “It is the hardest thing to create a new class. And the second is to create a new event.”

Again the MOD circuit will be part of the growing portfolio of events Turner and his commercial team will be touting to venues. As he says: “We go to sponsors with a suitcase of ideas – we’ll take them where they want because we want them in the sport and we’ll know that we’ll benefit from it in the long term. We are probably the only people who do that.”


Following their unsuccessful foray into Open 60s, the Edinburgh-based investment company that OC represent has scaled back their program, but are continuing with the Artemis Offshore Academy and their fleet of Beneteau Figaro 2s for aspirant British solo sailors. A challenging selection process took place in the autumn (read the account of Simon Hiscocks who took part in this, here).

“They don’t have a big boat program for now – I think that is the right thing, they need to draw breath a bit,” says Turner. “They are really motivated in supporting the Academy as a long term thing. It fits with an investment company and is a good solid project. No one knows where it will go and we are not worried about it. In 2011, they have the Artemis Challenge [round the island race for the IMOCA 60s] and a lot of hospitality based on the Figaros during Cowes Week.”

A decision has yet to be made as to whether Artemis will continue to back OC’s The Transat, which is next due to run in 2012 prior to the Vendee Globe.

OC Thirdpole remains a consultant for both Oman Sail and the Barcelona World Race. With Oman, Turner is a strategic consult while the experienced Neal Graham works on the technical side. With the Barcelona World Race, OC handles the media and represents the race outside of Spain.

“It will do great things for sailing in Spain,” says Turner of the doublehanded non-stop around the world race he and his team originally conceived. “This time you will have a lot of Spanish who have done an around the world race and grown their individual profiles. Shorthanded sailing in particular allows you to create heroes and people to follow and fans. There is a chance here for 14 Spanish heroes to come out of it, which is great.”

As to the IMOCA Open 60 class in general Turner says he is not sure what more should be done to it, other than perhaps take it to the Middle East and Asia. “Perhaps it needs a refresh in some way, but then perhaps I’ve been in it for too long! It is amazing that new boats are being built in this climate. But now it is much less dependent on the Vendee.”

Sponsorship in general

As someone regularly out in the field talking sponsorship with corporates, Turner observes that the market has naturally been tough over the last two years. However he confirms what we heard at the World Yacht Racing Forum last week, that the sponsorship market is growing again, only it is now tougher for smaller sports like sailing.

“One factor is on the media side is that there is less and less journalism and a lot less genuine coverage [thedailysail excluded, he hurriedly points out]. There is a whole lot more bought space. Positively there is significantly greater value on the online side of things [hurrah!]. The problem with sponsors is that there is a generational gap with the value placed on online coverage - it isn’t valued in the way it should be, or perhaps traditional evaluations still overvalue classical media. That isn’t that helpful for minor sports. In the UK there isn’t a lot of space left in the papers left for coverage that makes it tougher for all second tier sports.

“The other big changes in sponsorship is community, social responsibility and interaction with people directly. Sponsorship in our sport is not about brand awareness or it is very unusual for it to be the driving reason. Internal comms for the right company, yes a great one. VIP/B2B –awesome, if you get people sailing and we have a phenomenal sport for that.

“Where we do need to get better, and where a lot of sponsorship is increasingly going, is in local community type projects, connecting with a local community. Mass participation events are growing and growing and cities showing that they are giving something back to the citizens not just bringing a big event in that may or may not be relevant to them. We all need to be better at that.”

He cites examples of the community projects as those involving local schools in events. “In Almeria [for the final Extreme Sailing Series event this year] there was a 97% non-sailing audience. From a sponsorship point of view even a B2B brand that wants something elite, can’t be seen to be doing that. They need to be seen to be doing something that is of benefit to the community or the city, so That we need to take that into account. Taking that forward and being able to hold multi-discipline events will help us on that. Going to a city where you have a professional sailing event you have local communities that are using sailing and using other water sports and potentially pulling it in with a community 10km run around the stadium that you are doing the sailing event in. That is a better offer.”

Volvo Ocean Race? America’s Cup? IMOCA 60 campaign? We’re sure it is just a question of when, not if, OC Thirdpole get their hands on one of these.

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