Sailing, The Sponsor’s El Dorado

Sponsoring a sailing team – it’s not such a crazy idea! With one week to go before the start of the Route du Rhum, the number of visitors to see the boats in St Malo is already in the tens of thousands. The sponsors are rubbing their hands together with glee.
“Freedom is good” (Sodebo), “Success is in you” (Banque Populaire)….The sponsors spread their messages. “Sailing is an interesting medium that offers a multitude of communication and strategy opportunities” explains Alexandre Anginot, Commercial Director of the Sports Division at Kantar Media. “Above all, it is one of the rare sports where the team is named after the sponsor”.
No wonder advertisers from all sorts of industries – banks, insurance, food brands, IT Software – rush to the pontoons. “They choose sailing for different reasons,” says Alexandre Anginot. “looking for an increase in brand awareness, presence in the media, to be associated with strong values such as pushing the limits, escapism and adventure… “.
The cost of a campaign varies between 200,000 and 5 million euros, depending on the project and the level of support. And a current example of the high level of support is the Ultime class, the giants of the sea at more than 30m in length, now configured to foil, and skippered by one sailor alone. “The Ultimes fill 60% of the media coverage of the Route du Rhum,” notes Mathieu Sarrot, in charge of organising the 7M€ budget transatlantic event. Similarly, with one year to go before Brest Oceans, the race around the world in the Ultimes, the most daring single-handed event of recent years, Sodebo, Banque Populaire, Macif, Actual and certainly Rothschild will, and have already committed programs valued at more than 4M€ per year, based on campaigns with the sport’s best sailors. “An annual investment of 5.5 Million Euros, with an ROI of 56 Million Euros” “We do not just put money in to be seen, but to be able to write and tell a story,” said Thierry Bouvard, director of sponsorship for Banque Populaire, who next year celebrate 30 years of sailing sponsorship. And with undeniable success. About €5.5M annual investment and a return estimated at €56M (a ratio of 1 to 10) during the victory of the team skipper Armel Le Cléac’h in the last Vendée Globe. The banking group will take 400 customers and employees to the start of the Route du Rhum next Sunday in Saint-Malo. Sodebo and Macif, also in the Ultime category, will do the same.
 “Sailing makes it possible to develop internal and external communications” says Alexandre Anginot. “The duration of the races makes it possible to create a whole new world for our employees”. At the time of its creation, Safran, born in the merger between Snecma and Sagem, had the same idea, to create a project that all of their employees could be immersed in, to design a boat, Marc Guillemot’s IMOCA 60, sold in 2015.    Like a family For eighteen years, Thomas Coville, skipper of “Sodebo”, has created real relationships with the employees of the company from the Vendée region. “I went to Sodebo for the first time just as a Mr Nobody”  smiled the sailor. “I know some of the employees children, they watched my kids grow up, they were part of my life during every record attempt”.  Even though he broke the Round the World record in 2016, Coville was also haunted by his previous failures “sometimes to the point of being ashamed to represent these people, for fear that they might say that their employer was investing in a loser “. The pride of being part of such an amazing project reigns over everything. “As soon as Armel is out racing, everyone knocks on my door to ask how he is doing” says Thierry Bouvard, smiling.  When they turned their hand to sailing in 2003, the Hugo Boss brand were seeking first and foremost to increase their PR.
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Alex Thomson’s IMOCA is currently one of the world’s ten biggest sailing projects. And when he is not racing, the boat cruises the ports of Cannes, Toronto or New York, meeting customers, invited to sail on the boat. “Bringing guests to the start of a race, gives them the opportunity to experience something totally unique for a whole weekend, it’s much more profitable than giving them a glass of champagne at the half-time of a football match, “says Alexandre Anginot. More than twenty years after supporting Olivier de Kersauson, Charal are going again with Jérémie Beyou in an IMOCA proclaimed as the best one yet. Not on a quest for popularity, the goal of the number-one meat producers: reaching customers directly, in the middle of a worldwide trend towards Veganism, make them taste the products (they will have activation stands in the public village at the start of the Route du Rhum). All this with an unchanged communications budget, so, to afford a sailing campaign, Charal have given up two large TV campaigns (400 spots of 30 seconds). Like them, five sponsors who were not present at the last Vendée Globe – the biggest single-handed race, sailed in IMOCA’s, the 60 feet (18.68 m) monohulls – have this year invested in these type of boats, the flagship class after The Ultimes.
“The environment is very aesthetic. Sailing offers beautiful images” continues Alexandre Anginot. “As for the sailors, they are no longer bearded rum drinkers, but engineers, who tell an amazing story and are trained to talk to the media. “Superheroes” who are the key to success. “Sailing is a symbiotic sport” says Thierry Bouvard. “The sailor and the sponsor have a common goal: to make the program work. They move forward together to achieve their aims”.
“Contractually, I have to do the meetings and presentations, but of course, I’m doing more than we planned originally” said Coville, who, on his return, will tell his story to the employees of the company. Whatever his result, Armel Le Cléac’h will not finish the Route du Rhum until November 23rd, around 12 days after his departure after a quick ‘tour’ of Guadeloupe and Martinique flying the colours of Banque Populaire.
Banque Populaire and Armel Le Cléac’h
Skipper: Armel Le Cléac’h, 41 years old, signed up in 2011. Winner of the Vendée Globe 2017.Boat: Maxi “Banque-Populaire” IX (November 2017). Program until 2022.Cost: between 5.5M € and 6.5M € per year, sponsorship of the Sailing Federation included.Earnings: € 56million in equivalent advertising value for media coverage during the Vendée Globe 2017. For Banque Populaire, the victory in the Vendée Globe 2017 was a real success. “40 million visits to the website, more than € 10million in returns before the start … The equivalent of ten years of sailing sponsorship profits in one race”, summarizes Thierry Bouvard. Banque Populaire began their journey with sailing twenty-nine years ago, “because there was a strong link to our core values as a company in terms of historical strategy; to be entrepeneurs” says the director of sponsorship. “Our goal is to be in the race with the most media coverage, at the most exciting media moments, with the best boat and the best man”. Armel Le Cléac’h was recruited seven years ago and embodies “[their] core values”. For the Route du Rhum, the company’s strategy plan details “brand fundamentals, targets, communication objectives, activation ideas …” “Sailing is an investment, we must constantly ask ourselves the question: why and how we do it? Banque Populaire is looking for increased brand visibility, but not that alone.  “We want people to have a positive image of the brand; that our customers understand our philosophy and that our employees recognize the dynamism of the company. “-
Macif and François Gabart
Skipper: François Gabart, 35, contracted since 2010. Winner of the Vendée Globe 2013. Solo Around the World Record in 2017.Boat: Trimaran “Macif” (August 2015). Program until 2020. Another is already planned for 2020 and 2024.Operating cost: 5M € ex VAT per year.Earnings: 42,000 press releases since 2011 (which represents 66% of the media coverage of Macif Group). € 21m equivalent advertising value in the Around the World Record. Having been involved in the marine sector for 40 years, Macif launched into the offshore scene in 2008 “with a desire to promote the Macif brand on boats, but also to create a program that mirrors the business and the fact that Macif accompanies it’s members throughout their lives, “says Jean-Bernard Le Boucher, director of marine activities. It wasn’t a question, therefore, of recruiting a” star “of offshore racing, but to help create one. Macif came across François Gabart, unknown at the time, but has now experienced a dizzying rise to fame. Thanks to his exploits, the brand will now forever be associated with offshore racing. “On our digital platforms, we can see that the chat about the brand are extremely positive and that the majority of the conversations are related to our commitment to offshore racing,” notes Rosane Le Roux, Communications Director. According to her, the campaign “allows the sharing of important values, unites the company and it’s employees, and improves the brand reputation. We do not push a product, we talk about what drives Macif as a company. In terms of branding, it’s fabulous.” There are no concerns over Macif’s commitment to the sport. On the contrary. The building of a new boat has already begun! Gitana and Sébastien Josse Skipper: Sébastien Josse, 43, employed by Gitana France since 2011. Winner of the Transat Jacques Vabre 2013. Third in the Route du Rhum 2014.Boat: Maxi-trimaran “Edmond-de-Rothschild” (July 2017). Program until 2022.Cost of construction of the boat: 12M €.Earnings: in 2017, more than €7 million in equivalent advertising value in France alone. To continue a family tradition dating back to 1876, the Rothschilds created Gitana in 2000, a team inspired by motor racing. They were the first to embark on the concept of the foiling Maxi. At the helm, Sébastien Josse, a specialist in the monohull, recruited to sail … multihulls. “Benjamin and Ariane de Rothschild had watched Sébastien’s videos during his 2009 Vendée Globe and enjoyed what he produced” recalls Tiphaine Combot-Seta, the team’s communications manager. “Gitana represents values that are held dear by the Rothschild family. It is an unusual sponsorship”. If the business group (in the Finance sector) sponsors part of the project, the couple (Benjamin & Ariane) will finance the other part through a more philanthropic sponsorship. “Our owners don’t like to highlight their involvement in the finances, but there is more than just money in their commitment. The boat is part of their family history”. The finance group will organise some public activations during the Route du Rhum, and in return, Josse will come to spend some time meeting employees and talking about his experiences with them “exploring the comparisons between sailing and finance”.   Sodebo and Thomas Coville Skipper: Thomas Coville, 50 years old, contracted since 1999. Winner of the Route du Rhum 1998. Solo Around the World Record in 2016.Boat: “Sodebo Ultim” (May 2014). Long term campaign.Operating cost: € 2.5 million per year.Cost of construction of the boat: 4M € (10M € for the one soon to be launched).Earnings: equivalent media value of € 150 million in twenty years. Sodebo and Thomas Coville is the story of a crush between Joseph Bougro, boss of the agribusiness company, and one of the most bankable sailors of the early 2000s. At the time, Sodebo – “until then, understated but looking to increase their brand awareness”, according to Pascal Cadorel, Communication Director – embarked on a journey into offshore racing, whilst Coville, he was dreaming of breaking records. “Together, we built a spontaneous story of adventure” summarises the sailor whose contract is “automatically” renewed every two years. In twenty years, four boats, including three new ones (resold each time), have come one after another. The next will be launched early 2019. “In the twenty years that we have been present in sailing, Sodebo has increased its brand awareness ten-fold”, notes Pascal Cadorel. “In 1998, we preferred to start out in sailing rather than doing conventional advertising, which was rather unusual in our world”.  He is convinced: “The history of Sodebo (sponsor of the Vendée Globe since 2004) would not have been the same without sailing. Our employees and our customers share together with us in an emotional adventure. So much so that those employees, whose photos were stuck to the mast of the boat, accompanied Coville around the world.
Sailors with no sponsorship Recently, Antoine Carpentier launched a campaign on to raise the 30 000 € that is still missing from his budget. Bertrand Delesne (born in St Malo)  is also looking for tens of thousands of euros. Like them, several sailors, especially those in the Class40 category, will leave Saint-Malo without having completed their sponsorship mission. “In all races, there are sailors who stay at the dock,” says Michel Desjoyeaux. “The sponsors leave [sailing] but they will come back. Like Charal who, with the IMOCA & Jérémie Beyou, makes their return, twenty-five years after supporting Olivier de Kersauson”.  
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 Article by Sandrine Lefèvre translated from

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