How the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race is making waves in global sports sponsorship

The Clipper Round the World Yacht Race has developed a strong pedigree, over more than twenty years and eleven biennial editions, as a powerful and effective platform for the international promotion of tourism and trade with a unique formula for government which is also attracting business

How the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race is making waves in global sports sponsorship

The bold concept of creating a global mass participation sports challenge, which would also provide a platform for national, regional and city governments to promote their interests around the world, was conceived by sailing legend Sir Robin Knox-Johnston in the early 1990s.

Sir Robin became the first person to sail solo, non-stop, around the planet in 1968/9; his determination and resilience are also legendary and with the assistance of business partner William Ward they established the company in 1995 and held the inaugural global race in 1996. Just under 200 amateur sailors participated in eight identical 60 foot yachts in a challenging circumnavigation.

As a business model income came not only from paying (or sponsored) crew, from all walks of life, but also from destinations securing the branding and global activation rights to the Clipper Race yachts in addition to hosting the global event. Its financial viability and sustainability is rare in sailing and has enabled continued reinvestment to secure consistent growth and the evolution of innovative partnership opportunities on six continents.

The relationship with China features the longest consecutive partnership with a city: In 2004 Qingdao in Shandong province, on China’s north east coast, signed an agreement which started a remarkable journey leveraging its hosting of sailing competitions in the Beijing 2008 Olympic and Paralympic Games to create a lasting legacy.

The 14-year relationship has positioned Qingdao as China’s Sailing City, helping it to build an annual programme of international sailing regattas, training a new generation of competitive sailors, developing the wider ‘blue’ marine economy and more broadly developing tourism, international trade and cultural exchange.

The Clipper Race was the first fleet to visit the Qingdao Olympic Marina in 2006. In 2018 the third generation fleet of eleven identical 70 foot ocean racing yachts, owned and operated by the Clipper Race and built in Qingdao in 2012, marked the completion of the Wanda Marina and Yacht Club alongside its big new resort, business and film studio development to the west of the city.

Qingdao is currently in its fourth two-race partnership with the biennial Clipper Race which extends to 2020. The city of nine-million people is now ranked in the top 15 ‘new first-tier cities’ in China. The marine industry in Qingdao is growing rapidly: In 2017 it exceeded US$45 billion, an increase of 15.7 per cent over the previous year. It now accounts for more than a quarter of the city’s whole GDP, according to the Qingdao Municipal Bureau of Statistics.

Madam Luan Xin, vice Mayor of the Qingdao Municipal Government and vice president of the Qingdao Major International Sailing Events (Festivals) Organising Committee stated: “Through our team partnership with a Qingdao yacht entry, the city brand and profile has been promoted worldwide and the fast growth of China's Sailing City has been witnessed.

“The Clipper Race has become an eagerly anticipated biennial festival and it has also contributed much in providing opportunities to build Qingdao as the leading city of sailing sports in Asia.”

Other cities would like to emulate Qingdao’s success and Sanya on Hainan Island south of Hong Kong has just become the second Chinese partner for the Clipper Race. The race is also developing a broader involvement in the development of sailing in China.

Sanya is taking full advantage of the opportunity to visit major markets on the Clipper Race route including debut host port Punta del Este in Uruguay; both are world class tourist destinations but were little known to each-other. A high-ranking delegation utilised the Clipper Race partner network to arrange high level political and business meetings.

Hosting the Clipper Race has greatly benefited Uruguay. As well as international guests, the city hosted Clipper Race events that drew national representatives, including Liliam Kechichi, Uruguayan Minister for Tourism, and Larissa Perdomo, Country Brand Manager, Uruguay XXI, to engage with Clipper Race business partners and events.

Hosting the Clipper Race also enabled Uruguay to showcase itself as a world class tourism destination capable of holding major sporting events, which impressed a delegation from the World Tourism Organisation [UNWTO] that included Zurab Pololikashvili, who has just been appointed as secretary general for 2018-2021.

With a population of 3.3 million and a GDP of just under US$55bn – roughly 10 per cent of its larger neighbour, Argentina – Uruguay is a relatively small market for trade. But as a stable country with strong institutions, the country performs well on all major transparency and ease of doing business indexes.

Hosting the Clipper Race can also generate millions of dollars of economic impact from crew, supporters, partners, fans, sponsors, organisers and general visitors on accommodation, food, beverage, tourism experiences, souvenirs and travel. Early research commissioned by Culture Liverpool, and conducted by North West Research and Strategy, suggests that the event has already left behind a substantial economic boost to Liverpool and has been responsible for a UK£7.5 million boost and a further UK£1 million of visitor spending retention in the city. The Clipper Race drew some 220,000 visitors to Liverpool during the week-long schedule of festivities at Albert Dock.

The event evaluation report, which monitors the impact of the major events in the cultural programme, looks at recorded activity over and above what would have been expected without the Clipper Race presence. It concludes that in 2017 alone, the Clipper Race drew a higher proportion of visitors coming from elsewhere in the country than any other recent event and attracted nearly double the number of visitors from overseas (10.4 per cent over 5.5 per cent).

The report also gained insights into motivations and key drivers for attendance, visitor expenditure, quality of experience and length of stay. It suggests that 69 per cent of respondents were visiting Liverpool specifically to attend the Clipper Race event and over a third (35.7 per cent) of visitors were on staying trips, with the average stay of three nights, an increase of 15 per cent in staying visitors in comparison to similar events.

Australia is an important source of tourism and trade for many partners and was targeted by Team Partner and Host Port Visit Seattle, from Washington State in the US, which activated with a series of events for leading Australian travel industry representatives. This included sailing experiences on board the Visit Seattle branded Clipper 70 ocean racing yacht with media, travel trade customers and consumers to create a greater awareness of Seattle as the ‘new’ hot destination for tourism and trade for Australasians supported by media coverage and competitions.

Sponsoring UK cities have continued to benefit from the international spotlight despite the growing global spread of partners. In 2012 the Clipper Race was featured in the UK Government’s GREAT Britain campaign, launched to leverage hosting the Olympic Games in London and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. This has evolved into a very high profile partnership over the last six years using a GREAT Britain branded race team to showcase the important work the UK is doing around the world in business, tourism, education, sport and prosperity, projecting Britain’s values and opportunities as its GREAT Britain crew races around the world.

Clipper Race co-founder and chief executive, Ward, was made an ambassador for the GREAT Campaign by former UK Prime Minister David Cameron. At the beginning of this year he was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the Queen’s 2018 New Year’s Honours List for his services to the economy and to the GREAT Britain campaign. Ward said: “I take enormous pride in the growth the Clipper Race has made since 1995 when my business partner Sir Robin Knox-Johnston and I first set out together.

“The GREAT Britain campaign has always been a fantastic example of how our partners can best utilise the Clipper Race global business platform. Over the past three race editions we’ve partnered with the campaign in fifteen different major international destinations around the world, including London, Rio, Cape Town, Sydney, Beijing, Singapore, Da Nang, Seattle, San Francisco, Panama, New York and many more.

“The GREAT Britain partnership is just one example of hundreds of different business partners and international destinations we’ve worked with over our past twenty-two years. It has been a fantastic journey so far and one which I’ve taken enormous satisfaction in seeing it go from strength to strength, and I remain equally excited to see where it takes us over future decades.”