2.25 million race village visitors over the course of three weeks; daily, national coverage in print and broadcast media; three months of 24/7 live sport output; state of the art innovation and technology: sounds like a sporting dream?
And if you are a brand in France, it is. Which is why today’s announcement that Netflix France has partnered with British sailor Sam Goodchild to promote the broadcast of Narcos: Mexico during the upcoming Route du Rhum transatlantic race from France to Guadeloupe makes absolute sense.
The French have a love affair with offshore sailing
The Vendée Globe, the Route du Rhum and the Transat Jacques Vabre are three of the major offshore sailing races that the homme-on-the-street in France knows well and they know the protagonists too.
And that's the difference between France and the UK. Here, any type of sailing, from Olympic to offshore, is seen (wrongly) as a rich man’s sport, but in France, they have embraced these adventurous athletes who, through their endeavours, are national heroes, whether they are from France or overseas. And these heroes are backed by ‘ordinary’ brands: from banks to food, manufacturing to insurance: French brands are clamouring to get behind this offshore sailing world.
The Vendée Globe – the much-clichéd, but still apt Everest of the oceans - is raced solo, non-stop around the world. Leaving from the unassuming town of Les Sables d’Olonne (twinned with Worthing in the UK) in the Vendée region, it is an east-about circumnavigation of the world in 60 foot boats. In the 2016 edition there were 29 entries, 10 were international, and just one from the UK – Alex Thomson racing with Hugo Boss.
The Vendée Globe: the pinnacle of the offshore sailing world
The media results from the last Vendée Globe were enviable. A gross media value of €198m, 10m unique visitors to the website and 52% of the French population (aged 16-69) following the race. And the brands involved see real value in their investment. The 2016 winner, Armel le Cleac’h secured for his partner, Banque Populaire, 26,500 pieces of media coverage and 12 million videos views, and he also met with 10,000 employees. In the previous edition, Francois Gabart’s partner Macif (the equivalent to the Co-Operative Insurance here in the UK) had achieved their return on investment before he had even started the race, let alone sailed home the winner.
So why does professional yacht racing not resonate here in the UK in the same way?
In brief and in general, the story starts in the late 1960s. Offshore sailing interest was ignited by Sir Robin Knox-Johnson’s incredible achievement as the sole finisher and winner of the very first round the world yacht race – The Golden Globe, the brainchild of the Sunday Times newspaper. The rivalry between the UK and France had begun, however over the course of the next 30 years, the UK’s sporting interest moved on to its highly successful Olympic journey, whilst the French continued their love affair with the adventurous side of the sport, to the demise of Olympic glory.
Heroic finishes doesn’t equal UK media interest
And sadly that interest here in the UK has steadily declined, despite heroic finishes in the French offshore race circuits by Ellen MacArthur (who came second in the Vendée Globe in 2000-1 edition), Alex Thomson (also second in 2016-17), Sam Davies (fourth in 2008-9) and Dee Caffari – who is also the first woman to sail solo, non-stop, around the world in both directions.
Hugo Boss’s impressive 14 year relationship with Thomson has seen a twelve-fold return between 2014-17, a well-activated global campaign with award-winning results for the clothing lifestyle brand in particular through the creative execution of the mast walk and keel walk. The team's global appeal has been rewarded this week with a technology deal with Nokia Bell Laboratories, however Thomson is the only sailor with a truly international brand, securing an international footprint.
Storytelling abounds in offshore racing – whether solo or crewed. With the ability to send footage live off the boats from anywhere in the world; to call in to the boardroom whilst in the remotest parts of the Southern Ocean; or to update a school on what was had for breakfast after 40 days at sea inspires even those with no knowledge of port or starboard. The ‘hands on’ opportunities are extensive, with the ability to take VIPs sailing on board the actual race boats, leaving even the most spoilt corporate hospitality guest with a smile on their face. The opportunity to inspire a workforce through teamwork and leadership mentoring is second to none.
Is sailing sponsorship for you?
Would I advise a brand to go for a sailing sponsorship? The easy answer is a resounding yes for any brand looking to make in-roads in France – sailing is one of the key sports that should be considered – as seen by the Netflix announcement. And for the right brand looking to resonate outside of France – yes if media coverage is just one of a range of results the brand is looking to achieve alongside social engagement, corporate hospitality and entertainment, storytelling, cause related agendas and employee engagement.
Chapeau to Sam Goodchild and Netflix and good luck to all the competitors in the Route du Rhum. I for one certainly have everything crossed for a Brit to finish top of the podium and for the UK to start to fall back in love with offshore sailing and the commercial opportunities it brings for brands.
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