Whether you consider athleticism or economics, sailing is obviously a sport unlike any other. To start a Vendée Globe participation project, teams need money but that money is not coming directly from the skipper. It is coming from one – or several – sponsors. But because they are not charities, these sponsors invest in that field for a reason. Offshore sailing is an efficient way for a company to convey a message. « Sailing is about the environment but also about adventure and challenge. All these concepts can be interesting for a business », explains sports economics and marketing consultant Frédéric Bolotny.
« Sailing is quite profitable » when it comes to invested money and returns in terms of image and visibility, Bolotny adds. « The Vendée Globe is particularly interesting for French brands or brands who want to enter the French market. » Which is the case for PRB. Vincent Riou’s current partner has been at the start of every edition of the Vendée Globe since 1992 and has won the race twice (Michel Desjoyeaux in 2000-2001 and Vincent Riou in 2004-2005). Since then, the Vendée-based company has become of the leaders in the field of construction coating products, with an 18% market share in France.
The positive impact of that kind of investment can also be felt internally. « If a sponsor has an internal target, the operation has to be triggered through playful contests for instance. Employees need to be rewarded, explains Frédéric Bolotny. If you’re targeting other companies in a B to B operation, then you’ll need a real PR effort, you need to invite people. Viral marketing can also come in handy, you just cannot do without it nowadays. Everything you do needs to be done with your precise goal in mind. »
There is still room for uncertainty
Even though « sailing is one of the most structured fields when it comes to sports marketing », there are still limits to sponsorship in that world. It is important to bear in mind that « each brand’s visibility is in inverse proportion to how many competitors enter the race ». Supporting a very popular skipper should logically offer major visibility to a brand, the opposite outcome can also happen: « We call that the screen skipper effect as the brand actually disappears behind the skipper. »
One of the biggest risks when sponsoring a sailing project is « the sport hazard itself, because accidents and technical issues do happen when sailing ». What can be the impact of such damages on the image of a sponsor? « I don’t think there’s any transfer, people won’t think the brand’s products are not reliable, Frédéric Bolotny answers. We are aware yachts face conditions that just don’t compare to what can be found in other sports. Sponsors may get instant visibility if something goes wrong with the boat but then they have to forget about all the visibility they would have had throughout the rest of the race, especially if the incident occurs far away from the finish line. » The uncertainty of the outcome is definitely something that sailing and other sports have in common.