Making it pay

Three contributors well placed to justify a Volvo Ocean Race budget

Team SCA Managing Director

It is said that participation in the Volvo Ocean Race can be used to develop the perception of a company when part of a global communications and marketing platform. And I would agree. I would also suggest that it can be used for much more; such projects can also cause a ‘leap - frogging effect’, enabling companies to compete more effectively in the global marketplace by instigating vital cultural and external changes more quickly.

Based on my experience of four Volvo Ocean Race campaigns for companies that did make those big leaps – Assa Abloy, EF Education, Ericsson and now SCA – there was not only a shift in communications and marketing, but also braver decision making, leading to sharper management of internal issues plus stronger relationships with customers, consumers and business partners worldwide.

Sailing offers universal values
Sailing is an excellent metaphor for the ideal operating model of any company, local or global. Offshore racing is about the power of human emotion, teamwork, endurance, strategy, tactics and technology interacting with the environment and working towards a vision. These are uplifting, empowering themes that every human being around the globe can relate to.

In every campaign I’ve been involved with the companies and brands have conveyed their messages to global audiences internally and externally – through creating a powerful connection between the crew and their employees, customers and consumers. This does not happen by itself, though. It requires cross-departmental planning and world-class execution!

Key (success) factors
I sometimes get asked why more companies are not participating in ocean racing projects. There is no simple answer to that. Assa Abloy, EF Education and Ericsson are global companies that in many ways, despite representing different industries, faced a similar set of complex challenges in an increasingly competitive global arena. For a complex project of the magnitude of the Volvo Ocean Race to succeed a number of key factors must be in place:

  • An aligned senior management team that is willing to take big decisions, that has a clear focus on the longterm future of the company and brand and how participation in the Volvo Ocean Race supports this focus.
  • A culture of speed that can take on the vast range of activation opportunities that arise during such a project.
  • Clearly stated objectives as well as a solid strategy and implementation plan.
  • Company-wide interest, engagement and understanding of the initiative.
  • A deep desire to connect with customers worldwide with a fundamental aim to meet their needs and expectations.

In this respect SCA is no different. SCA is a leading global hygiene and forest products company with 60 brands and sales in more than 100 countries. Despite this, many consumers around the world who use their products, perhaps on a daily basis, do not make the connection between their toilet paper or feminine-care brands and, for instance, SCA – the ‘mother’ company.

SCA wants to change that. It wants to strengthen the awareness and perception of the corporate brand, helping hundreds of millions of consumers worldwide to understand that the great products they use every day fall under the umbrella of an extremely ethical, genuinely caring business.

Thus, within a Volvo Ocean Race context, SCA has clear overall branding objectives: first to increase awareness of the SCA corporate brand and further to strengthen links to product brands. Also, SCA is keen to use its participation in the Volvo Ocean Race to add to its current portfolio global brands Tena and Tork.

What the race brings to the brand
The inherent assets of SCA’s care-of-life brand fit well with its all-female Volvo Ocean Race project. SCA’s products, solutions and knowledge make a difference to people and nature. It is a high-performing global hygiene and forest products company, with a strong sustainability track record and ambitions going forward, and has a performance-driven culture that finds new, innovative ways of working. SCA particularly supports the empowerment of women, socially, educationally and professionally, which is a natural outcome of the fact that 80 per cent of its consumers worldwide are women.

There is no doubt in my mind that companies and products with an effective brand strategy have a major edge in increasingly competitive markets. SCA’s brand strategy, based on its care-of-life brand concept, drives to build a strong group-wide corporate brand in which SCA is a guarantor for all its product brands worldwide.

Put another way, a globally more familiar SCA corporate brand will enable crossfertilisation of values and strengths inherent in the corporate and product brands. This builds a ‘One Company’ feeling and creates closer relationships within the company as well as with consumers. That is what I consider to be a true competitive advantage, creating value on many levels – which is exactly what is needed in today’s tough business environment.

Therefore, by participating in events such as the Volvo Ocean Race, companies can take this step forward and raise global consumer awareness while executing a corresponding fast-forward internal change process. If done right, of course!

Sam Dulka, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing

Numbers play a huge role in sport, none more so than in professional offshore racing. A few degrees too low could change your leg fortunes dramatically. Boat speed is a constant battle, as crew eke out every knot. If we look back at the last Volvo Ocean Race, when Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, the first Arab flagged team to take on the Everest of Sailing, won leg 7 from Miami to Lisbon, it snatched victory by five and a half minutes after more than 3,500 transatlantic miles and 11 punishing days at sea. Every inch counted.

For sponsors numbers play a huge role too. When Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi) made history with its Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team, and became the first Arabian stopover in the 2011-12 campaign, we set clear, realistic goals from the start, including metrics best described as ROI (return on investment) and a more qualitative ROO (return on objectives).

We wanted to showcase the emirate as a winter watersports tourism destination; demonstrate local sailing potential through Emirati crew member inclusion; leave a tangible legacy that would reignite the emirate’s deep-rooted maritime heritage, taking Abu Dhabi into the global yachting spotlight; and see our Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing crew complete this epic sailing odyssey.

Some of these results were numbers based, but equally important were the intangible outcomes which can be harder to benchmark.

So how do you measure your return on investment? Well, that depends on your goals in the first place. For some sponsors direct exposure and a quantitative media return on investment might be priority one. For others the chance to engage existing and business development clients through VIP hospitality and bespoke sailing experiences might be crucial. The opportunity to actually offer a ‘money can’t buy experience’ like sailing during a race stopover pro-am clearly differentiates the sport from rivals such as Formula 1, football and rugby.

Each sponsor needs to assess clearly what they want to achieve and how to measure that success. I cannot speak on behalf of other sponsors in the Volvo Ocean Race, but I can tell you about us.

If we are talking number crunching, then yes we achieved what we set out to. The event delivered 120,604 visitors to the stopover – well above the 100,000 target figure – and exceeded expectations on all major measures such as having 32,000 room nights associated with the event (target: 30,000), 360 accredited media (target: 250), 1.565 million AED (US $426,000) in combined sales by race village retailers, and it generated a total economic impact of US$47 million in gross output. Further, 89 per cent of visitors to the race village said they would recommend Abu Dhabi as a tourist destination, cementing one of the core aims of the hosting. We ticked a number of the boxes, and we’ll tick even more next time around.

On the team front, its return on investment topped US$100 million from media and intangible value. At home UAE publications printed 1,004 articles on the race, the fourth largest market globally. This was up from virtually nothing before. In total, Abu Dhabi received 7,185 brand mentions in print and 353 hours of TV brand exposure. The development of a strong social media platform for Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing also played a significant role. Again more boxes ticked…

Yet what is equally significant is that which is hard to put a figure next to. Our hosting left behind a Return on our Objectives and a legacy that has seen Abu Dhabi’s watersport proposition increase significantly. Since January 2012, when the race left our shores, three Royal Yachting Association-accredited watersport centres have opened for business, more yacht charter companies are operating, hotels have increased their on-water products and more people are heading out onto the emirate’s waters.

Prior to hosting the stopover Abu Dhabi had a very limited number of local sailing regattas, but now the season is bursting with over 60 events. Also, following Adil Khalid, the first Arabian sailor in the race, a new generation of local sailors are emerging. These are boxes that – while harder to define – still needed to be ticked.

As Abu Dhabi gears up for its second Volvo Ocean Race, both with a team and as a host port next Christmas and New Year, we will again set our objectives and how to measure them. They are different, as any sponsorship needs to grow and develop. Yet our decision to return speaks volumes about the authority’s confidence in both its investment and impact on the tourism proposition as well as the race’s continuing evolution to meet sponsors’ needs… and deliver those highly important numbers.

Kevin Fylan, Volvo Ocean Race

Whatever it is that originally attracts sponsors to the Volvo Ocean Race the clinching argument is often the chance to build relationships and establish emotional connections with consumers, clients or employees in a sporting event with a unique global reach. The VOR has been a pioneer in activating new markets including China, the Middle East, Brazil, India and Russia. ‘That is a crucial factor when speaking to sponsors today,’ says race CEO Knut Frostad. A total of 2.9 million visits were recorded at the 10 race villages around the world in the last edition. That is a lot of consumers to meet in person and expectations are even higher for 2014-15.

As well as the chance to reach fans directly, there are media platforms that draw a committed following via the exhilarating quality of the raw footage from the boats. The Volvo Ocean Race’s core audience is ABC1, which is hugely attractive for sponsors; the media value alone in the last edition averaged over 300 million euros per team.

For the first time the one-design Volvo Ocean 65s that will contest the race have been built around the needs of TV and the footage is made available immediately to teams royalty-free. That helps build a community of engaged fans, while the multimedia material can be exploited by teams however it suits them best.

The one-design concept has not only lowered the cost of entry to 12 million euros over the race cycle, it also minimises commercial risk by making sure all boats are competitive. Likewise, the longevity of the race makes sure that every single team and sponsor will have days in the limelight.

Looking beyond the consumer, many companies become involved because of the B2B potential. The parallel between running a company and running a team in the race makes it easy to create interest in the business world. Add the fact that the race comes to the clients in home markets rather than having to always fly them in, and you see strong reasons why companies like Volvo Group, Ericsson and others have been so successful in their race sponsorship.

The relatively recent introduction of pro-am and in-port racing provides a platform to entertain key guests in an attractive and unique environment. In 2011-12 25,000 corporate guests were entertained at the host ports and a select few even got to sail onboard. Which other sports can provide that VIP experience, allowing sponsors to invite their best customers to compete alongside the stars? For other companies it can be about brand awareness, connecting the core race values, putting a group of companies under the same umbrella or uniting a workforce behind a campaign.

For Assa Abloy in 2001-02 internal motivation was key. The concept of ‘being in the same boat’, a core brand value for the Volvo Ocean Race, can quickly create a large following internally, particularly as staff can connect directly with the sailors via digital platforms.

The unique quality of the race, according to Frostad, is that it allows companies to hit such different targets globally and over a long time period. ‘The fact that the race visits all the key markets and is therefore one of the most global sponsorship properties is essential,’ says Frostad. ‘The sailors are incredibly accessible, have great stories to tell and can reach both male and female audiences in all age groups.

‘Finally, you shouldn’t underestimate the importance of having a strong and visionary event owner in Volvo.’

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