BOSTON – I just spent the weekend in Boston at the Volvo Ocean Race. This event is really catching on with the mainstream public. It seems that anyone who gets a close up look at the event becomes hooked. There was a lot of non sailing public roaming through the race village this weekend and they immediately became intrigued. With the Race Village situated right down town, Volvo has really brought the event to the people.
On Saturday I watched the in port races from a Volvo VIP boat alongside Mike Sanderson and French sailing legends Roland Jourdain and Michel Desjoyeaux were in town also and are looking at bringing their solo campaigns and sponsors into the race next time. Makes a lot of sense really. The French public are absolute fanatics about offshore racing.
On a sunny and blustery Sunday, I got to helm Puma in the first Pro Am race and then Ericsson 3 in the next two. The races were reaching figures of 8 in a very small bit of water right in the downtown harbor. The channel is barley half a mile wide downtown but Peter Craig ran the races right there in front of the crowds. In 25 knots of wind and with 25 knots of boat speed, the 6 minute races were a riviting sight for the 30,000 spectators who go an up close and personal view of the event.
Knut Frostad, CEO of the Volvo Ocean Race, announced some changes to the event for 2011 all aimed at continuing to improve the commercial value of the event. A new format for the import activities, some cost saving measures for the teams, increased use of the latest multi media outlets, and a slightly shorter route are among the improvements. The cost saving measure do two things; they obviously reduce cost but they also increase competitiveness of the event by reducing some of the advantage that big spending teams can get. With such forward looking and independent management, it is no wonder that the corporate world is increasing its commitment to this event even in these challenging times. Alicante has committed to be the starting port for the next 3 editions of the race. The Volvo Race management will also move its headquarters to Alicante and create a museum there showcasing the rich history of this event that began as the Whitbread Round the World Race in 1977. With this the Spanish company Telefoinca has committed to sponsor the Spanish team for three editions, while Ericsson and Puma have committed for the next event as well as event sponsor Volvo. This event is establishing continuity and that is a valuable asset in any business. No doubt the disastrous mismanagement of the America’s Cup is putting a shining light on the Volvo. The Volvo is taking over form the America’s Cup as the first choice for pro sailors looking for a stable career platform as we could be looking at 12 plus entries for the next race in 2011.
Two special people whom I caught up with were team mates from our winning Whitbread team in 1998; Kimo Worthington, now general manger of Puma and Magnus Olsson, skipper Ericsson 3 and still racing at the age of 60. So now my answer to those who ask if I am going to return to the race has changed from, “I think I may be too old” to “I am too young, I need to train for 10 more years, then I will be ready!”.
Sunday night was the leg prize giving which is a fancy dinner with great entertainment for 500 featuring a group of inner city youth dancers who stole the show. And I mean youth. Some of the kids looked to be 6 years old with the oldest being maybe 12. The food and dancing was first rate. I sat next to my female counterpart of the EF campaign, Christine Guillou, and we had recalling the interesting moments in that campaign, mixing the men’s and women crews for training and just coexisting as a coed team around the world.
I was speaking to a British sports marketing executive who was visiting the race for the first time, a guy who ran the marketing for Honda in Formula One previously, and he said that the Volvo is truly a top level sports marketing property. It was impressive to see the new faces, from other areas of sport, gravitating to the event.
I have to say that I was impressed by it all.