The second edition of the World Yacht Racing Forum started this morning with an introduction by the event's chairman Peter Gilmour. “We are here to build the platform for young sailors”, he said. “This is a unique opportunity for us all to steer the business of yacht racing. The people gathered in this auditorium represent roughly projects worth over one billion dollars.”
Over 350 delegates including 60 media representatives were listening! Most sessions focused on the commercial value of the sport, and gave the opportunity to the speakers to describe the most efficient methods to provide a strong return to the discipline's partners. “The economy aside, our sport has never been that strong”', observed keynote speaker Tom Whidden, the President of North Sails. “The number of boats and events is increasing, and their management is often extremely well executed. Any business can learn from a well run sailing campaign.”
One of the highlights of the day was the presentation by sports marketing expert Richard Moore (CEO; Capitalize), who confirmed that the global sports business has been less affected than other industries by the worldwide economic crisis. “The sport industry has increased by 0,4% this year and the predictions for next year are for an increase of 11,2%. However”, he added, “the sport of sailing represents only a marginal percentage of this pie.”
Indeed, the sport faces several fundamental issues. “In most disciplines, the revenue is split in three equal thirds that come from hospitality, gate revenues and sponsorship. However sponsorship represents most of the revenue in sailing, and this situation is potentially dangerous.”
Managing Director of IFM Sports, Ulrich Lacher confirmed that the yacht racing industry doesn't sit in still waters. “Your sport is difficult to understand”, he told the audience. “There are too many series, too many events, different types of boats… What sponsors want nowadays is to know exactly what return they can expect. You need to tell them precisely what your potential is, and what return you can offer them. The potential of sailing is massive yet largely unexploited. The strengths of the sport are the business opportunities it provides, the emotions it generates and the hospitality platform it offers.”
Mark Turner, who is one of the industry's most creative event organisers, said the same when he claimed that “our job is not to have fun sailing: it is to sell the passion and the emotions that are unique to sailing. What sponsors want is to entertain. We need to develop strong hospitality programs because sailing provides a platform that is absolutely unique. It is our strongest asset.”
The debate entitled “How can sailing deliver benefits to host cities and ports” put a light on the fact that the venues unanimously praise the commercial return they get through hosting sailing events. Interestingly, the panel included host cities of major events such as the Volvo Ocean Race as well as smaller events and venues such as Lake Traunsee, in Austria, or Puerto Calero on the Canaries Islands. The panellists explained that the key to success is to set clear and realistic objectives. Some figures speak by themselves: 650,000 people visited Galway during the Volvo Ocean Race stopover; 80,000 people came to Almeria for the Extreme Series and the sailing events held on the mountain lake Traunsee generated 10,000 overnights in the area. “It took us three years to turn the event from a regatta to a business”, commented the Austrian event organiser Christian Feichtinger. “It generated a value of over 1,4 million Euros.”
The last session of the day saw an interesting debate on new media technologies. Ian Taylor (CEO, Virtual Eye), reminded the audience how much the technology has evolved in the past fifteen years. “Not long ago, we used some virtual images to illustrate the television footage. During the last event held on America's Cup yachts in Nice, we added some television footage to the live virtual race.” Joint CEO of the TV production company APP Sunset & Vine, Richard Simmonds didn't quite agree: “There is nothing like the live emotions provided by real footage. Just imagine a live coverage of a sailing boat sailing in the roaring forties when a storm is about to hit!” At the end of the day, all panellists agreed that virtual and live coverage had to be used together, providing both the emotions and the precision.
Other panellists such as Philippe Guigné (CEO, Many Players), insisted on the fact that virtual sailing (events coverage or games) opens the sport to a whole new audience. “Until now, people were watching sailing. Now they are actively participating: they have their own (virtual) boat and they choose their route. In reality, and thanks to the new technologies, 350,000 people took part in the last Vendée Globe.”
Held in parallel to the Forum, the inaugural Yacht Racing Design & Technology Symposium gave the industry's more technically oriented participants the opportunity to discuss a proposal by designer Juan Kouyoumdjian to fine tune the ISO standards applied to yacht racing by the International Sailing Federation. “The current norm is not appropriate”, he said. “I would like to walk out of this Symposium tomorrow with an agreement by the industry to work together on a norm that is better adapted to our needs and constraints.”
The Symposium's auditorium was packed with 100 delegates comprising boat owners, project managers, builders, engineers and suppliers. “We tried hard not to be too technical”, commented Juan K. “At the end of the day, everybody learned something. We would need a one week long session to debate our key issues, but this is a great start.”
The second part of the Forum will begin tomorrow Thursday with a keynote speech by double Vendée Globe winner Michel Desjoyeaux. Discussions on cost reduction measures, what sailing can learn from other sports and the place of multihull in the international sailing calendar will follow, whilst the exclusive America's Cup presentations by Russell Coutts and Brad Butterworth and the subsequent panel discussion with many America's Cup potential Challengers will close the day and the event.