The Extreme 40 Sailing Series has grown year on year since its inception in 2007, with its accessible stadium format and high-speed boats helping to attract a wider audience to the sport. In his own words, Andrew Pindar “wears two hats” at the Extreme 40: his company, GAC Pindar, has the logistics contract with OC Sports, helping them move equipment across the globe between acts, and is also the title sponsor of one of the teams in the series. At the recent Extreme Sailing Series act in Cardiff, he talked to SportsPro about his involvement in the events, and the evolution of sponsorship in sailing properties.
What is different about the Extreme Sailing Series that made it something you had to be involved with?
We’d been watching the evolution of sponsorship in sailing, looking at where people were getting the best commercial return for their sponsorship dollars and I’d been running sailing as a means for business promotion basically all my working life. I came across the Extreme Sailing Series as it was evolving and was changing the way people were seeing sponsorship in sailing. The involvement of Mark Turner [of OC Sports, the company behind the Extreme Sailing Series and other events] also made it an extremely interesting prospect as he is the guy who essentially created Ellen Macarthur and all the media attention that went with that.
"If someone is going to do something spectacular – like sail around the world – then that will draw media attention and there’s a value attributable to that"
He had put a huge amount of thinking into not only what it was that he needed to do to make sailing appealing to the general public, but he also had an appreciation of the fact that it had to work in a way that brands would wish to engage with that type of sailing because they were going to get better coverage and better visibility than they would otherwise. I think the simplistic argument is that in many sailing events you wave boats off at a dock and they disappear over the horizon, and come back eventually. Whereas with stadium sailing, you’re looking out over the bay here at the racecourse, so you see the thrills and the spills up close and personal and you can hear the shouting and screaming of the crews – which there is a lot of. It’s high-intensity stuff with the boats going very quickly.
Every year the Extreme 40 gets stronger and stronger, it’s such an appealing format and people are becoming aware it’s something they can come down and see and make a day of it. We’re committed to it because it just does it for us. We happen to have a direct reward because we have the logistics contract but our contract is nothing to do with whether we have a team. So there’s a business there and then there’s business promotion here, and that’s what the sailing team is about. We measure the relationship build that we have for the GAC Pindar business which is in marine sport leisure and events and then GAC’s wider business. 95% of our guests are not from my niche of marine sports, they’re from the other areas GAC works in. From the promotional side of it I want to deliver for GAC and our co-sponsors great value and the knowledge that they know they’re winning more business and greater traction with their customers.
What other kinds of brands are looking to get involved with something like this?
If you look at the brands that have been involved with this series over a number of years now, you’ve got some of the world’s top retail brands. Brands like Red Bull. We’ve had Prada involved before. But also B2B brands like SAP and then obviously ourselves. So you have a wide range of brands from all sectors who ultimately are all just trying to sell something. It comes down to why people would be involved in this event, and why sailing, and why sport. You’ve got to look at the hierarchy involved with that.
If you look at the Land Rover involvement with this, they did a lot of research as to what the interests were of their existing customers and of their prospects, and they wanted to make sure they were putting sponsorship money into events that reflected the interests of their customer base. They made a strong commitment to sailing as something that was relevant to them. The same applies to Red Bull, their interests are in anything that’s exciting – hence Extreme Sailing, and this sailing certainly does get extreme.
What have been the major changes to the way sponsorship in sailing has operated over the course of your career?
It’s been helped hugely by social media. A lot of minority sports – let’s remember sailing isn’t football, it’s not cricket, it’s not rugby or motorsport, it’s the top-end of minority sports – benefit from social media, where people can elect their own channels of interest. I can’t tell you that [GAC Pindar] do the best job of it, there are people who are better exponents than we are. But even from what we’re doing today somewhat ham-fistedly, we are seeing a return. I’m personally involved with social media and there has been a tipping point with that, through what I’m seeing, living and breathing this company every day.
It’s important to reflect back on things they were doing very well 25 to 30 years ago that people have almost forgotten about. People have got themselves too wrapped up in technology thinking that HD TV might be the answer but at times a crackly line with Ellen Macarthur in tears is just fine, it’s almost better than HD TV because it’s about the raw emotion, the things that are going to cause people to remember a moment.
And social media helps you convey those emotions and those moments better?
You need to make sure that it drips in front of those people who are already interested and are self-selecting. It’s about multi-channel because it’s often through traditional media – print or TV or radio – where the content causes people to do a search. Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, all that stuff, is initially driven by mainstream media and once the people have then got into the new media, then sometimes they might drop the traditional stuff, but they reinforce one another. Woe betides you if you think you can do away with any one channel of communication.
If someone is going to do something spectacular – like sail around the world – then that will draw media attention and there’s a value attributable to that. That’s what Mark Turner did with Ellen [Macarthur]. If you get this incredible and diminutive woman to sail an amazing boat and do very well in races, and smash world records, then the media would follow, and therefore it became a sponsorable property. But it’s nothing without the story and the moments, which social media make easier and easier to share.
The “extreme” dimension of this series makes it very exciting and it generates images, and images are very important. If you can get the YouTube hits, the Instagram hits and everything else like that, then suddenly you’ve got a very different measure to “how many column inches have I got in the Daily Telegraph?” There’s still value to getting column inches in the Daily Telegraph, save for the fact that it’s very hard to do it, because, apart from Stuart Alexander at the Independent, none of the mainstream newspapers carry a sailing correspondent any longer. Which means that it isn’t getting the coverage through those mainstream channels, which is chicken and egg really as to which is the cause and which is the effect.
"We’re not here to have sport for sport’s sake. The stories around sport and the imagery around sport are the tools that allow us to sell more of something"
Looking to the future, then, it’s about telling your story and communicating your brand message over various media rather than just focussing on the digital side?
I think there are still marketing teams and agencies who are finding their way in cross-channel communications. Those who have learned how to do it and pioneered are really making great strides and there are other people who – well, the world is passing them by. For those doing it the old way, they’re going to get a sub-optimal value out of their sponsorships.
You need to have a good product and a good service but the way of making sure your sponsorship is effective is by having that cross-media skillset that is going to look at every channel and opportunity to communicate a message. And to be able to have that virtuous loop which means that every time you’re doing something well you’re feeding your own position.
I see far too many people who get carried away by the property that they’ve got, or they get hung up on the brand or some technology, rather than remembering what they’re trying to do, which is sell more stuff. We’re not here to have sport for sport’s sake. Sport is a tool and the stories around sport and the imagery around sport are the tools that allow us to sell more of something.