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Sailing – Sponsors‘ Paradise or Closed Circle?

As a native of Schleswig-Holstein, I have to like the water. And inevitably also the sport on the water. That makes me truly no outsider. In Germany alone, about 9 million people, i.e. 14% of the total population between the ages of 14 and 69, are interested in sailing. Thanks to this quite impressive figure, Germany is the largest sailing market in Europe, at least in absolute terms, ahead of Italy. In the ranking of people interested in sailing in Europe, France, Spain, Great Britain, the Netherlands and Switzerland follow in next place with a remarkable 1.11 million inhabitants interested in sailing.

Socio-demographic data make sailing exciting

Why should sponsors get involved in sailing? In order to even begin to approach this question, one must also look at the qualitative characteristics that describe those interested in sailing.

Only then can the sport be examined for its suitability for sponsors. According to this, sponsors in sailing can reach an on average male and financially strong target group between the ages of 25 and 55. The image dimensions attributed to sailing (team spirit, performance, high-tech, precision, dynamics, innovation, pioneering spirit, internationality and professionalism) already suggest that the image of the sport primarily appeals to people with an above-average salary and education level. A more detailed analysis of the sailing community proves that there is a high number of multipliers in this group. Also, the socio-demographic characteristics of sailing sport supporters, at least in Great Britain, France, England and the USA, hardly differ from each other. Thus, a relatively homogeneous group can be assumed, even internationally. So: an exciting target group for sponsors.

Is sailing really a sponsor’s paradise?

Let’s start at the beginning: Sponsors can – depending on the design of the sponsoring contracts and the scope of the service packages they contain – place their logo on numerous surfaces on the yachts in an attractive size and prominently placed (e.g. spinnaker, mast and hull). So far – so good. It’s just a shame that the mere presence of the logo is rarely enough. Therefore, many sponsors supplement their activities on site and use sailing events mainly as a hospitality platform. From the sponsor’s point of view, the event at the former VELUX 5 OCEANS, for example, has proven to be the optimal platform for the main sponsor Velux to establish global business contacts and to create attention in the relevant target group. Let me put it this way, I was part of the marketing team in 2006.

Weak media presence as a obstacle

But wouldn’t it be ideal for the entire sport of sailing if sponsors could also be given attention in the broader population? Just as in all mass sports, it is also true in sailing that sponsors have the opportunity (through extensive supplementary communication measures) to get their sponsoring message across to so-called indirect viewers. Especially in top international sport, the media are used as a multiplier of the message and the sponsoring effect is strengthened in this way. However, according to numerous surveys, sailing has an acceptable number of people interested in sailing, but the media presence (especially on TV) is very limited. In short: Apart from the America’s Cup and the Vendee Globe, the international sailing sport hardly receives any media attention and is often only covered by the relevant trade magazines.

Volvo Ocean Race 2014 | Start of second leg from Cape Town to Dubai (Source: The Ocean Race)

Niche sport unsuitable for the masses …?!

Although sailing has experienced an upswing in recent years and hardly comes across as a niche sport any more, even top events like the former Velux 5 Oceans are unknown. This is reinforced by the fact that it has not yet been possible to establish a competition structure that is comprehensible to laymen. Thus, the international sailing sport with its multitude of regattas, boat classes and events is more than confusing at first. One can say casually: Interesting sport, but it would be even more interesting if someone understood it. I’m happy to confess: I sometimes watch events like the America’s Cup on TV. And so far I have no idea when who is leading and why. Not the best basis for winning me over as a permanent viewer. And like me, millions of other sports fans feel the same way.

Paradise for exclusivity

In this respect, I believe that if I had an exclusive product to market, I would use sailing as a powerful tool. For products/services with a mass character, other sponsorships with a more suitable price-performance ratio can be found. This will not change as long as the sport of sailing does not undergo comprehensive structural changes and actively opens up to a larger, uninformed audience.

Alex Thomson Racing and HUGO BOSS-Yacht (Source: Facebook)

In spite of all its complexity, however, sailing can boast one thing that sets it apart from many other sports: the power of strong images that lend themselves to exclusive brand presentations.

Let’s just look at Hugo Boss. With its partnership with British skipper Alex Thomson, which has lasted for more than 17 years, Hugo Boss has been able to set standards in terms of brand presentation. Among other things, the fashion label is the name sponsor of the racing yacht with which Thomson has been competing in the legendary Vendée Globe since 2004. Hugo Boss uses the myth of the Vendée Globe for a kind of over-staging of sailing, but it works. Thomson not only starts with what Hugo Boss claims is the world’s first completely black sailing yacht, but he also becomes the face of the campaign in spectacular stagings. In one legendary action, Thomson runs up the mast of the yacht in a black Hugo Boss suit while it races through the water at an angle. Not only was the action itself breathtaking, but also the way it was staged in the media. More than 10 million users watched the films of the three actions Keel Walk (2012), Mast Walk (2014) and Sky Walk (2016) on social media platforms. James Bond feeling included.

My conclusion

I have the highest appreciation for the extraordinary achievements of the sailors and can only pay my respects for their adventurousness and courage. And yes – I am captivated by the outstanding images that sailing offers. For a manageable number of exclusive sponsors it is paradise, but for the mass of brands it is uninteresting.

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