Byline: Peter Sharkey
A decade ago, news that Ellen MacArthur was twoand-a-half days ahead of schedule to break the 72-day, non-stop, solo round the world yacht racing record would have prompted little more than a 'ho-hum' response.
Back in 1995, ocean-going yachting was perceived (and to a great extent still is) as a sport where privilege and unlimited financial resources were an essential prerequisite for participation. Yet as the latest round the world race, the Vendee Globe, enters its final phase, interest in the sport is at an all-time high.
MacArthur deserves great credit for this. Currently on board her 75-foot B&Q/Castorama trimaran, a craft designed and built solely with the intention of establishing new solo records, she probably has little time to consider the commercial implications of her feat.
Nevertheless, recordbreaking has become an increasingly popular target for ocean sailors, ostensibly because it removes the need for external race controllers; in effect, the craft becomes the event.
Moreover, such is the extent of yacht racing's burgeoning popularity that companies are lining up to sponsor teams and events as never before.
'To understand the commercial power of yacht racing, it's important to appreciate something of the spirit of the sport,' says Kevin Roberts of Sport Business. 'It is about courage and endeavour, self sufficiency and team work. It demands intellectual and physical fitness and the ability to take decisions which may impact on the very survival of yourself and your crew.'
Technology has ensured that visually stunning pictures of yachts slicing through the bluest of oceans convey a unique, unspoken, spirit of adventure and freedom, one which touches a nerve with the viewing public. Sponsors feel this too, although before taking the plunge, so to speak, they look first at the analytical evidence which confirms the value of media coverage. Kingfisher, Ellen MacArthur's long-standing sponsor, recently released figures which showed that, as a result of the company's association with MacArthur, between 1998-2001, it received nearly 10,000 named mentions in 8,000 newspaper articles in 23 countries. These were accompanied by more than 1,000 branded photographs.
Had Kingfisher bought this newspaper space in order to reach the same audience (a staggering 4.85 billion), it would have cost the company pounds 15.4 million. Similarly, television news coverage was worth pounds 20 million over the same period, radio coverage had an estimated advertising value of pounds 5. …