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Volvo and Vendee: Heading For Recession?

9th March 2009

Yachting Journalist Elaine Bunting's blog carries an up to date analysis of the state of world offshore sailing and she asks the question arehuge budgets driving ocean racing towards a recessionary crisis She takes a comment from Roger Johnstone on the Volvo Ocean Race and the Vendee Globe: 'After years of being seemingly sustained by a Nordic ocean racing clique able to defy global business logic, one can't help but feel that the writing is on the wall for the VOR. Only eight boats started, only three teams seemingly have a serious chance of winning, and two of those (copying "toxic" ABN AMRO) have improved the odds by entering two boats apiece - a serious case of burning cash to get on the podium.'

He adds: 'These days, the "sailing elite" seem to enjoy patronage rather than sponsorship. Where's the commercial logic and business case for companies like Pindar and Ecover hurling money into sailing? Answer: there isn't any.'

It's always possible to argue/construct/illustrate a case; sponsors can and do, but I have a feeling Roger is pinpointing something very significant here: that what we, as 'consumers' of these races, make of those costs and business cases is undergoing a big sea change.

Solo round the world project costs have likewise been racking up at a steady rate. Depending on whom you believe, investment management fund Artemis spent 8-9 million GBP on their Vendee Globe campaign but did not finish a single race.

Their new boat must have cost between 1.5 and 2 million GBP to build but is still unproven. What's it worth now? Half that maybe? You just can't help questioning how sharp an investment it all was.

Compare that to the acclaim and success of Steve White, mentioned earlier. He had a legion of fans when he finished the Vendee in 8th place out of 30 starters in his tired old fixed keel IMOCA 60, which is for sale (now fully race prepared!) for a hefty 350,000 GBP. This shoestring project cost 1/20th of some that didn't finish.

A race that can accommodate and reward both extremes would seem to me to have a more sustainable future. If the big-rolling sponsors don't sign up, the market for secondhand yachts falls and campaign costs tumble. Teams shrink; they pay themselves less. Reverse market forces assert themselves and it can all continue.

And right now, salaries too surely must be at a zenith.

A lot of the French solo skippers are on a structured salary based on the managerial scales of the sponsoring small or medium-sized company. I've been told the norm is around 4,000 Euros a month.

But the 'Anglo-Saxon' template, where sponsors tend to be multinational corporations, is quite different. A handful of sailing 'stars' are being paid hundreds of thousands of pounds a year. Honestly, I'm not making this up...

The full article (with invitations for comments!) at Team

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