The revised scheduling of The Ocean Race will help ensure a strong sporting and commercial profile for the quadrennial round-the-world sailing event, with no significant financial implications from the 12-month delay to the next edition, according to the new organisers.
Last month, given the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the decision was taken to postpone the 2021-22 race to 2022-23, and, while this might have come as a disappointment to teams and sailors that were preparing for one of sport’s greatest challenges, it is claimed that there are advantages in the staging plan that has been drawn up for the next decade.
The move also gives The Ocean Race more time to prepare for the next eight-month event, and a sustainability programme built on the strapline of ‘Racing with Purpose’, and for the appointment of a presenting sponsor and development of a media strategy, while plans for a separate new European event have been brought forward to 2021.
The Ocean Race in 2022-23 will be the first under its new name after long-time owner Volvo Cars pulled out (while remaining a partner), and will involve the previous confirmed stopovers and two separate boat classes in the VO65, which has featured in the last two editions, and the IMOCA 60.
As the subsequent editions of The Ocean Race will take place in 2026-27 and 2030-31, there is separation from competing attractions such as the Olympic Games, the Vendée Globe, the single-handed round-the-world event, and possibly the showpiece America’s Cup, according to race chairman Richard Brisius.
In an interview with Sportcal's The Boardroom, he admits that the decision to postpone the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games to 2021 has caused an impact as sailors planning to compete in that event next July and August would have been unlikely to be ready for The Ocean Race two months later.
The delay avoids such a clash, and future races will be two years after the quadrennial games, meaning participants can commit to more than one campaign.
Brisius says: “For many Olympic sailors it became an issue because it was a short time [between the games and The Ocean Race]. But now we’re back on the same calendar as the Tokyo games, and I assume the Olympics will go back to the 2024, 2028 schedule. When we do our racing in 2026… then they (sailors) will have had two years to prepare, and I think that can help.”
With the America's Cup, the way it's scheduled now is good because teams that do the Cup might not do the following one, and could do The Ocean Race, and they will have a year and a half to prepare properly
The rescheduling also moves The Ocean Race away from the next edition of the America’s Cup, which is still due to go ahead in Auckland in New Zealand in the first quarter of 2021, and although sailing’s blue riband event has been held at irregular intervals over its long history, there should be gaps in the calendar going forward.
Brisius says: “With the America’s Cup, the way’s it’s scheduled now is good because teams that do the Cup might not do the following one, and could do The Ocean Race, and they will have a year and a half to prepare properly.
“You don’t know when the next Cup starts up and which teams are continuing, and if [as a sailor] you’re in a Cup team, or if you’re in an Ocean Race team, you haven’t been able to do both. The Cup schedule is always changing over the years, so we’ll see how it works out.
“With the Vendée Globe (beginning in France in November 2020), which is interesting to us now that we have the IMOCA class, it’s probably better the way it will pan out because if you do that then you have The Ocean Race starting in a year and half roughly, which gives enough time to rest and prepare even better than if we had to start out in 2021.”
The Ocean Race dates back to 1973, and the next edition will commence from its now established start point of Alicante in Spain in October 2022, and make the planned subsequent stops in Cabo Verde (West Africa), Cape Town (South Africa), Shenzhen (China), Auckland (New Zealand), Itajai (Brazil), Newport (USA), Aarhus (Denmark), and The Hague (Netherlands), before finishing in Genoa (Italy) in the summer of 2023.
While a delay was regarded as unavoidable given the repercussions of Covid-19, which had impacted on the preparations of the organisers, teams and sailors, Brisius, who took control of the race together with current managing director Johan Salén through Altant Ocean Racing Spain, when Volvo withdrew in 2018, is relieved that the plans have not had to be fundamentally changed.
He says: “I should admit that when we first looked at it [the organisation] seriously and realised what it would take to redo our agreements with host cities, partners and stakeholders, it looked like an enormous task to take on but surprisingly there was no difficulty at all. If we had any worries about it, they were completely wrong.
“It’s been a smooth process with all the cities, teams, our stakeholders and our partners. They will remain the same, and for Volvo Cars, which has a long tradition in the race, dating back 20 years, this is great as it gives them more time to plan their activation.”
While The Ocean Race will be introducing measures to adjust to the new normal brought about by Covid-19, including in shore logistics and travel and to ensure social distancing in race villages, the event does have the advantage of being an outdoor and largely offshore spectacle, and additional costs from the delay are expected to be minimal.
Brisius says: “As a race organisation, it’s no additional financial burden. We just use our time and resources in a slightly different way. And for each team and each city, basically no-one is needing more resources. Maybe if you’re a team and you really want to win the race, and you’ve got another year, probably you will spend more time training and that is something that adds to your budget, but at the moment, I haven’t heard anyone saying, ‘ok, now we need more money.’”
Given it is now more than two years to the next race, and the fallout from the pandemic is likely to have an impact, it is not known how many participating teams there will be.
However, the new owners have made it a target to have more competing boats, and, with two classes and between 20 and 30 teams having registered and paid an initial fee, there is expected to be a significant rise from the seven in 2017-18 when China’s Dongfeng Race Team came home first.
Brisius says: “I’m not saying we will have 20 to 30 teams, but more than last time.”
It is expected that many will take part in The Ocean Race Europe, originally scheduled for 2023, but brought forward to next summer now that the main event has been delayed by a year.
The new race is set to take place over four weeks and visit five cities, with Genoa among those that have expressed interest, and will help to promote the European Green Deal, the European Commission’s strategy to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050.
Further details, including the involvement of sailing ‘legends’ and support races, are expected to be announced in due course, with Brisius saying: “We want to make it a sport festival involving sustainability, youth and the cultural element as well.”
We are looking for partners who want to come into a race where they will work for the benefits of a healthier planet
There is a new sponsorship structure for the next edition of The Ocean Race, with Volvo and 11th Hour Racing, the founding partner of the sustainability programme, already on board as premier partners, in a tier below the planned presenting sponsor.
Helly Hansen, which has sponsored various teams in the past, recently signed up as a third-tier official partner of the race, in the category of official clothing supplier, while GAC Pindar is returning for a third successive time, as official logistics provider.
The Ocean Race is working with CSM Sport & Entertainment, the UK-based agency, on its commercial strategy, and partners will have to buy into the event’s sustainability objectives, including improving the health of the oceans and preserving vital resources.
Brisius says: “We are looking for partners who want to to come into a race where they will work for the benefits of a healthier planet. They’re the type of companies that we want to work with, rather than pinpointing certain categories.
“We are not looking for a new title partner for the race. We have changed from what was the Volvo Ocean Race to what is now The Ocean Race. The thinking is that we will have a ‘presented by' partner. That will be the highest level of sponsorship, and then we will have premier partners and official partners.”
He claims that conversations are ongoing with potential sponsors, with the organisers also willing to work with companies targeting team deals and push them in the right direction, and that the opportunities are now seen as more attractive in some quarters because it is a clean brand.
Brisius states: “What we see is that the interest in the race has grown a lot. The main thing is that many companies are looking for a true platform that brings together the greatness of sport and sustainability, and it’s not a created one. What we’re doing is powered by the way that we care for the ocean.
“Secondly, although many companies loved to work with the race when it was called the Volvo Ocean Race, a few felt it was not for them because when it was fully owned by another company, by definition the purpose of the event was to deliver for the shareholders of the owner, which was Volvo. Now I think some companies find it more relevant to look at the race because it’s more neutral.”
Also between now and October 2022, The Ocean Race will be deciding on the best media presentation for the event, building on the experience of previous editions, other sports events and developments in technology.
As in 2017-18, the coverage is likely to be based around digital and social media clips, established television highlights and news, with features including content from the onboard reporters, a mainstay of the race since the 2005-06 edition, and the in-port races, which are popular with sailors, viewers and corporate guests alike.
However, Brisius believes that event organisers have to be more flexible with their media plans than was the case in the past.
He says: “What was well done in the last race was to be pretty agile because new things come up when it comes to communications methods and channels, and you have to be willing to test and trial much more than was done five to 10 years ago. Then you had a manual and you just stuck to that and kept working for 10 months, but now you have to test and trial and see what the audience likes and how does the audience want to follow the race."
Brisius concludes: "We had great success with social media in the last race. It seems like what we are doing and what the teams are doing provides content that works well in social media so for sure we will keep pushing forward on that. Then there are lots of TV series ideas, which have been around for 15 to 20 years.
“There is never a lack of ideas or opportunities. We are not locked into a stadium where we can only do one thing, say add one more camera. We can take things from a completely different angle.”