Sponsorship is not the Answer – People are the Answer

Published on June 17th, 2013

By Howard Paul, Scuttlebutt contributor
I have read and listened to many people’s opinion about sponsorship being the answer to sailing, and frankly I believe this to be wrong.

First, there are those sports which are naturally good to watch. They are in stadiums, they play on a specific schedule (good for TV schedules and people wanting to watch), and the games are easily understood – albeit some people understand more of the nuances then others.

For example, the Hockey and Basketball Finals are going on now in the USA. Both are in stadiums, and I would bet that every guy reading this has played one or both of these sports at some point during their life. There is a schedule of games to be played to reach the playoffs, and then the playoff schedule. The established and annual plan allows for the sponsorship of these sports come in advertising dollars and ticket sales to pay for the team expenses and hopefully a profit for the owners. Yes, this is a business.

And then there is sailing. Not so long ago I knew someone who was trying to raise sponsorship dollars for a singlehanded around the world race. The skipper had competed and won a previous race in a smaller, lower budget event, so he was arguably a good investment. I had a connection with an advertising agency with a large international client that seemed to be a perfect fit. On top of it all, the agency president was a sailor and raced his own boat. Perfect, right?

When I contacted him regarding the advantages to sponsor this race, the response was not surprising. He told me for the same money they could sponsor a NASCAR cup car for the entire year. The season had 38 races. The car would be seen about 200 times a race by 80,000 in the stands and millions of people on national TV! Do the math; it is all about exposure.

Now on a local level, how many times have we all been at the yacht club after a race, lamenting how we can’t compete with the guy who just bought all new sails and has his sailmaker sailing with him. We’ve all been there … unless you were the one that just bought the sails. How many fleets have gone by the wayside because of people like that? Some could afford to enter the arms race, others moved to less demanding fleets, and some just stopped competing.

And now the most well known event in our sport – the America’s Cup – has gone that way. It has become so expensive that only three teams are challenging. The ‘promise’ had been 3-4 times that number. Keep in mind the original “Challenger of Record” dropped out for this reason. And now the racing schedule has been reduced. What if you had invested in this event? The sponsors must be cringing.

No, sponsorship is not the answer. The reason for sailing’s declining participation is our failure to promote the one thing that sailing does better than any other sport. It provides FUN in all kinds of ways. You can go cruising or race. You can sail at a top level of competition with world champions. You can race on a Wednesday night beer can race and have burgers and beer afterwards. You can sail singlehanded or with 17 others sailors. You don’t even have to own a boat either!

We need to stop talking and simply get out on the water. The Summer Sailstice on June 22 should be our focus, and don’t forget to invite a non-sailing friend along. That is the way we will grow the sport.

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