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REgulaRs in your shoes


“abu dhabi hospitality will be welcomed as sailors recover from life on the edge: no fresh food is taken on board; temperatures vary from -5 to +40 degrees celsius and only one change of clothes is allowed.”


AND WE’RE OFF...


Alicia Buller sails into the sunset with Volvo senior vice president, Doug Speck


J


UST OFF THE shores of Alicante, Spain, the fortunes of six world-class sailing teams were cast to the ire of the sea last


month. The Volvo Ocean Race remains the most challenging water rally on the planet, and is often the only race an Olympian athlete would dream of conquering next. In nine months, the sailors are tasked with mastering 72,000 kilometre of the world’s most treacherous oceans from Cape Town, to Arabia, to China, to America, and finally to Ireland. As usual, the Volvo Ocean Race departed from a pleasant part


of Europe in Autumn; but rather less usual this year was the smaller number of competitors. As companies around the world reined in marketing spend, the race lost a number of sponsored boats. But in a nautical nod to the world’s shift from the West to East, for the first time in history, an Arabian boat joined the fray. ‘Azzam’, Abu Dhabi’s sleek black yacht, led by double Olympic silver medallist Brit Ian Walker, also carries Adil Khalid, the first Emirati sailor to join the race. While Azzam experienced some boat-build challenges and has


resigned from leg one of the challenge, some consolation lies in the fact that Abu Dhabi is set to provide the first Middle East stopover in the race’s history this year. The sailors are expected


114 / DECEMBER 2011


to reach the emirate’s balmy climes just in time for a spectacular New Year’s party, along with the teams from Camper, Groupama, Puma, Team Sanya and Team Telefonica. The Arabian hospitality will be welcomed as crews recover from life on the edge: no fresh food is taken on board; the temperature varies from -5 to +40 degrees Celsius; and only one change of clothes is permitted. It’s an expensive business – owning a race. So expensive that Doug Speck,


senior vice president for marketing, sales and customer service at Volvo Cars, said he’s keeping those figures close to his chest. “We think it’s good value for us – we look at what we contribute, but we also look at what we get back from a media perspective. If we didn’t think there was a good return from it, we wouldn’t be contributing. This is the biggest sponsorship initiative that we’re involved in,” he says, surveying the glittering Alicante port from the spectator boat. As well as the considerable cash involved, Volvo contributes technological insight, global operations and HR expertise to the race, which happens once every three years. The investment in technology is often carried back into the cars. “We share a lot of technical findings, including communication.


It’s a very complicated thing – keeping in touch with the boats, and keeping in touch with the media. We’re learning a lot about how we can connect to the boats and, ultimately, how our cars can become more connected as well. It’s all part of the package,” added Speck. The dent in Volvo’s marketing budget from the race is salved


somewhat by the amount that each host destination contributes along the way. In addition, Volvo enlists a host of secondary sponsors to help support the race costs. However you split it, the potential for visceral brand association is unlimited. The drive, the expertise and the boundary-breaking bravery of the sailors is rare and astonishing – something that reaches right into the well of our deepest aspirations. And, for even a little of that gold dust to stick to a brand, is priceless. Or, at the very least, worth a few tens of millions of dollars every three years, as a certain automaker knows.


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