Saturday, 15 January 2011

GOR: Offshore Racing and the Media - The True Value

Sponsorship is closely linked to the media value of a racing campaign. Image copyright Global Ocean Race.

by Oliver Dewar

There is a clear and defined connection linking sponsorship investment in yacht racing to media returns, whether underwriting an entire sailing event, or funding an individual team competing in an event. Media success for a racing team or an event is fundamental to attracting sponsorship funding. Assessing broadcast, print and web media value in offshore racing is complicated, time consuming, expensive and can be inaccurate and misleading.

However, a study of web statistics focused on the Route du Rhum – La Banque Postale 2010 undertaken by the Global Ocean Race 2011-12 (GOR), indicated some startling trends in the yachting public’s taste, focus and level of engagement in offshore racing. Following a study of traffic to the individual team websites in the Route du Rhum, it becomes evident that a fast boat, a well-funded campaign, a slick media team and a good result does not guarantee sustained public interest. It is now apparent that wit, imagination and a direct, personal approach to race fans is a compelling force.

The ninth edition of the Route du Rhum, single-handed, transatlantic race from St. Malo, France, to Guadeloupe in the eastern Caribbean, promised intense excitement with a large and diverse fleet. Race favourite, Franck Cammas, took line honours on the astonishing, 31.5 metre trimaran, Groupama 3, dominating the Ultime class from the early stages; the IMOCA Open 60 fleet delivered an historic back-to-back victory by Roland Jourdain with Veolia Environnement; the race record holder from 2006, 50 year-old Lionel Lemonchois, won the Multi 50 division on Prince de Bretagne and a new breed of sailors scrapped hard in the Class40’s with outstanding performances by former Mini sailors graduating to this new and rapidly expanding class.

In addition, spectator tension was increased by Sidney Gavignet’s abandonment and the subsequent salvage of his Ultime trimaran, Oman Air Majan, and Étienne Giroire’s capsize onboard the 40ft trimaran,, 1,300 miles from Guadeloupe and his swift and expertly co-ordinated rescue by a cargo ship. In summary, with a record number of 85 entries, the 2010 Route du Rhum had all the components of a classic race: a large mono- and multihull fleet; skilled and high-profile skippers; extraordinary boats; intense racing; damage, drama and deliverance with many highly-talented skippers attracting unprecedented media attention.

Calculating the media return for an offshore yacht racing campaign is a difficult task. Specialist companies focus on supplying a dollar value to the press coverage often based on the number and size of articles combined with the publicly available distribution figures for newspapers and magazines. For TV and radio, appearances and sound bites are compared to the equivalent cost of advertising through the same media.

Whether the results assign a true value to the media return of a campaign is difficult to judge, but the technique does provide a guide by which two sailing projects can be compared. With the internet, a similar logic has been applied by attempting to assign a dollar value to each article published, often based on the equivalent cost of internet advertising. The rise of the social networks Facebook and Twitter increase this complexity making number crunching a mammoth task. Often, subjective choices are made in assigning the average dollar value to one impression of your sponsor’s logo in a newspaper, television advert, on the internet or a mention of the company’s name during a radio interview.

While the professionals may juggle the figures to determine the dollar value of each Route du Rhum campaign, The GOR analysis concentrates on the relative internet media performance among the 85 Route du Rhum skippers split across four classes. Clearly, gathering detailed data of media coverage for all the skippers would be close to impossible and extremely expensive. Instead, a quick and independent gauge of the relative value of each campaign was sought. In total, 64 out of the 85 skippers operated a team website for their Route du Rhum entry and this is the natural place to begin research.

The website ranking company, Alexa, has a good reputation for its work in traffic metrics, search analytics and demographics, although they admit to some shortcomings in the method: the higher the ranking of a site, the more accurate the value; some sites are ranked slightly higher than their true pecking order and some sites may be penalised for the way they have been created. The territory of SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) and other obscure internet techniques are strewn with pitfalls, but Alexa provide an independent benchmark. While the system fails to supply precise website traffic volume, it creates a ranking order based on the data collected. Thus, if website A is ranked far lower than website B, it can be safely assumed that B will also have more visitors.

Alexa’s main index is a three-month ranking and the GOR gathered data in the first week of December, securing a ranking table that includes part of the build-up to the race, the race itself and a couple of weeks of post-race traffic and wrap-up articles. Had the analysis been delayed, the data would begin to deteriorate as short-handed offshore racing fans switched their focus to the Barcelona World Race.

There will be criticism of this method, but it is the only way to compare 85 Route du Rhum campaigns in the space of an afternoon. Of the 64 active, skipper websites, ten sponsor websites with a subdomain or subsection dedicated to the Route du Rhum campaign were dropped from the analysis to prevent non-Route du Rhum, corporate web traffic corrupting the data, leaving 54 skipper websites for viable analysis.

Route du Rhum 2010 fleet Top 10 website ranking:

Racing result: Skipper/boat: Class: Class website ranking: Overall fleet website ranking

1 Roland Jourdain/Veolia IMOCA 1 1
1 Franck Cammas/Groupama Ultime 1 2
27 Marco Nannini/UniCredit Class40 1 3
1 Andrea Mura/Sardegna Rhum 1 4
3 Thomas Coville/Sodebo Ultime 2 5
3 Marc Gullemot/Safran IMOCA 2 6
28 Conrad Coleman/40 Degrees Class40 2 7
4 Yann Guichard/Gitana Ultime 3 8
9 Bernard Stamm/Poujoulat Class40 3 9
10 Pete Goss/DMS Class40 4 10

The Top 10 web ranking shows that Class40, the most populated of the classes with 44 starters, is represented with four boats, followed by the Ultime class with three. However, the top spot did not go to Franck Cammas and while the Ultime class typifies speed, sailing skills, technological excellence, the glamour of big multihull racing and the courage required by solo sailors, in the 2010 Route du Rhum, the IMOCA Open 60 and Class40 fleets delivered exciting, close quarters racing. The web ranking above suggests that the public’s attention is always grabbed by boats of the same length and of equal performance where the man, not just the machine, makes the difference on a race track.

From a web media perspective, the 2010 Route du Rhum winner is Roland Jourdain in the IMOCA Open 60 class on Veolia Environnement. Jourdain’s engaging English and French website is extremely rich in text content, photos and videos with a ‘Kids Corner’ and a suitably environmental tone, all held together by the skipper’s extraordinary charm and strength of personality.

The unstoppable Franck Cammas Factor and the skipper’s existing superstar status clearly grabbed the public’s attention with a slick and professional website and while his sponsor has recently put its entire multihull fleet – Groupama 3, the ORMA 60 Groupama 2 and their Extreme 40 - on the open market, Cammas fans are guaranteed to follow the Groupama Team directly to the Volvo Ocean Race. Taking first place in class obviously assisted Jourdain and Cammas in the web rankings and the majority of the web traffic in the Rhum Class also went to the class winner, Italian skipper, Andrea Mura with the ten year-old monohull, Vento di Sardegna. To keep the public engaged, performing well on the water and in the final results is usually essential, although there are exceptions.

Marco Nannini's Class40 UniCredit. Image copyright Endeavour Quays.

In Class40 - with a more heterogeneous and international list of entries - some intriguing media results appeared. The Class40 on the water winner with Destination Dunkerque was Thomas Ruyant, a former Mini Transat champion displaying impeccable racing during the Route du Rhum and leading the Class40 fleet for the majority of the 3,600 mile course. Ruyant is poised for French sailing superstardom, although his Route du Rhum media approach was faithful to his Mini background with French-only web updates written by an anonymous scribe in the third person and he achieved a 7th media rank in Class40 (ranking table below) and 19th overall in the Route du Rhum fleet ranking.

Swiss skipper, Bernard Stamm, on Class40 Cheminées Poujoulat, took 9th place after a dramatic climb through the fleet following steering problems and a pitstop in the Azores. Stamm is an immensely popular IMOCA Open 60 skipper with a 2003 Around Alone win, a 2007 Velux 5 Oceans win and two attempts at the Vendée Globe in 2000 and 2008 and he is now returning to the IMOCA circuit with a new boat. In the Class40 website ranking, Stamm took third place, but two, non-French, non-established skippers dominate the ranking table.

Route du Rhum 2010 Class40 Top 10 web ranking:

Class40 racing result: Skipper/boat: Class40 website ranking: Overall website ranking

27 Marco Nannini/UniCredit 1 3
28 Conrad Coleman/40 Degrees 2 7
9 Bernard Stamm/Poujoulat 3 9
14 Pete Goss/DMS 4 10
2 Nicolas Troussel/Bretagne 5 15
11 Thierry Bouchard/Comiris 6 7
1 Thomas Ruyant/Dunkerque 7 12
26 Fabrice Amadeo/Geodis 8 22
7 J-E Criquioche/Picoty 9 23
ABD Davide Consorte/Adriatech 10 24

The Class40 top spot is occupied by an unlikely outsider, UK-based Italian skipper and GOR entry, Marco Nannini on UniCredit who finished in 27th place in the Route du Rhum. The second web media slot is taken by another GOR entry, New Zealand sailor Conrad Colman on 40 Degrees who finished in 28th place on the water with British solo sailing legend, Pete Goss, on DMS finishing in 14th place on the water and ranked 4th on the website table. Initially, it seemed that the web ranking methodology maybe flawed with Nannini and Colman – who gambled unwisely with a mid-Atlantic weather system and plunged down the Class40 position polls – scoring so highly on the media table.

However, further research revealed that within the entire Route du Rhum fleet, Nannini’s personal website was the only blog available in four languages, featuring light-hearted, humorous, daily updates written by the skipper while the 32 year-old Italian interacted fully with his public, inviting them to email directly to the boat. As an employee of his sponsor, UniCredit Group, he doubtless had an immediate, natural following among his 170,000 work colleagues around the globe. Taking top web ranking spot in Class40 and 3rd ranking overall in the race indicates that, ultimately, with a little imagination, you do not need the biggest boat, largest budget or highest speed averages to produce a good media return for your sponsor.

It appears evident that a lively blog can build a healthy media profile irrespective of on the water performance. Indeed, Conrad Colman’s 2nd and Pete Goss’ 4th are higher internet rankings than many of the top French names. Coleman and Goss operated English-only websites, perhaps indicating that the 62 million population of France (180 million French speakers worldwide) is a smaller market compared to the massive potential of the English speaking world population with over 600 million native English speakers and several billion people globally who understand the language.

Another factor that may affect the web ranking was the sporadic translation and crossover of direct skipper text input between the French and English sides of the event’s site. Potentially, spectators were driven to individual team websites: a factor that may explain the anomaly of Class40 Italian skipper Davide Consorte’s high media ranking despite retiring early in the race with a series of problems onboard Adriatech. Indeed, the English-language Class40 section of the event’s site abruptly ceased operations two days before the first Class40 crossed the finish line in Guadeloupe, driving more English speaking fans to individual team websites.

Scrolling down the media table in Class40, some correlation between on the water performance and web ranking begins to appear: GOR entry, Jean-Edouard Criquioche and Groupe Picoty crossed the finish line in 7th place and achieved 9th place in the web ranking. Fellow GOR entry, Tanguy de Lamotte and Novedia Initiatives took 15th on the water and 15th in the web ranking.

It is relatively simple to create patterns in data and while the GOR’s web analysis is not full-proof, it is a good indication of how the offshore yacht racing public reacts. Furthermore, scoring a low ranking in this system is not an indication of poor media performance as the lead time required by magazines means that print articles covering the Route du Rhum are just beginning to appear and as TV and radio coverage figures are eventually produced, an extended view of overall media exposure will soon develop.

In conclusion, there are established techniques to measure media returns and calculate the perceived dollar value to a sponsor. However, there are few guidelines on maximising media exposure and enhancing an offshore campaign’s public appeal. At the World Yacht Racing Forum (WYRF) in Estoril, Portugal, held in December, it was suggested that morphing sailors into ‘personalities’ was a potential solution. With the worldwide Cult of Celebrity gaining popularity, this may be a solution, but the associated risk of damage to a sponsor when a high profile brand ambassador goes rogue is extreme. In addition, there is no guide to the mysterious science of personality creation, although the process may include coating with Teflon.

There is also debate as to the most valuable form of media: at the WYRF, a group of yachting racing’s grandees agreed on stage that a TV eyeball is of more value than an internet eyeball. So, it appears that the 34th America’s Cup pledge to ‘engage the Facebook generation’ may have, for some, the similar, uneasy appeal as an alliance with the Klingons.

Conversely, those promoting the internet as the media of choice will provide the compelling argument that YouTube and the incredible growth of the social media platforms Facebook and Twitter provide accurate, immediate and impressive KPI (Key Performance Indicators) that will encourage and satisfy a sponsor. The sponsor investment/media value equation is complicated and there appears to be no firm agreement as to the most effective strategy in this rapidly evolving market. However, the GOR’s analysis suggests that the consumer’s appetite requires feeding with creative and inventive entertainment delivered rapidly and clearly.

Note from SailRaceWin: Not convinced as to this being the best method of analysing the data, or the best dataset to analyse - but it provides some profile for the Class40 fleet, who are seeking sponsorship to take part in the Global Ocean Race.

Global Ocean Race