Commercial Sailing’s Twin Peaks

Published on August 28th, 2016

When British sailing entrepreneur, Mark Turner, took over the reins at the Volvo Ocean Race earlier this year, the sailing world breathed a sigh of relief, happy in the knowledge that one of our sport’s premiere brands was in safe hands.

But this was not the first time Turner had been offered one of the top jobs in sailing. He was close to taking over at the America’s Cup prior to the 34th edition in San Francisco but opted to continue with OC Sport, the business he had built from scratch into a significant extreme sports marketing company involved in sailing, cycling and skiing.

Sail Racing Magazine Editor, Justin Chisholm, asked Turner recently what had been different about the Volvo Ocean Race opportunity. Here’s an excerpt of Mark’s comments:

The America’s Cup very much revolves around private wealth. There’s nothing negative about that, but if I’m honest, my professional interest has always been around brands and making the sport work on a purely commercial front. For me, that side is more fun and perhaps more interesting.

It’s important to say that I was close to taking the America’s Cup job, very close to taking it in fact. But in the end, I went a different route.

I think it’s wrong to compare the America’s Cup and the Volvo Ocean Race and I don’t know if you really can, but ultimately the Volvo has probably more scale. It has more scale on a global level consistently, across public, B2B or anything else. That said, the America’s Cup is very big and has a big image in some countries, at certain times bigger than the Volvo Ocean Race will probably ever have.

It’s the amount of scale that the Volvo Ocean Race has which makes it so interesting for me. At OC Sport we were always fighting from a lower level scale-wise, so we were limited in what we could actually do and always trying to keep the company together, to survive and not go bust. It’s exciting now to be able to take what I’ve learned and use the scale of the Volvo Ocean Race to do some much bigger things.

That’s not to say the Volvo Ocean Race does not face big commercial challenges. It could equally go wrong if we make some big mistakes. Our starting point is something in the region of two and half million visitors and 100,000 VIPs in the last race across 11 venues.

It’s also important to recognize that when you have a great title sponsor who also happens to be the owner, that gives you a little bit longer term view of things than a normal sports property.

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