Nov 7, 2008, 8:50 AM
Post #3 of 4
From Benjamin Jarashow:
Re: [The Publisher] QUANTUM RACING - Too much branding or Okay
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In certain classes (I can specifically think of the Stars, Etchells, J/24, and Melges 24), most competitors I know of do LIKE to compete against pros - interestingly, of those classes, they span the range of Advertising allowance..... The Melges class is a good microcosm, I think, of allowing sponsorship, which makes it easier to field a professional team, which keeps the level of competition very high, which keeps interest for competitors, viewers watching an event, and other prospective sponsors. An upward spiral, hopefully. That said, I do seem to recall many discussions over the years about how to tread that fine line. The Melges 24 classí embracement of the "Corinthian division" seems to be effective presently.
My understanding is that sponsorship is more prevalent in Europe, for various reasons - one is simply that sponsorship is more accepted a practice across the board there. The branding on sports team jerseys, billboards, etc. is much more obvious and obnoxious - but it's what they are used to (as opposed to the backlash against banks buying naming rights on stadiums here). I have been led to believe that the tax codes are friendlier to corporations spending money for sport than is the case here.
The sailboat racing world is going to divide up into classes that people want to sail - every owner wants something different for his or her racing experience. Part of that decision right now includes whether the owner wants to race in a class where pros are allowed, or sponsorship is allowed, etc. Once part of a class, they are part of the membership which, generally speaking, gets to be a part of the decision if the class wants to change its regulation. In the case of the handicap classes, they are generally handled locally - your local PHRF-board, or Yacht Club may choose whether IT wants to allow these things. Owners that travel to Key West know what they are getting into, and they may certainly choose to go to some other event where there are Category A advertising rules, instead of Cat. C. They'll probably spend less money to go to some other event anyway. If a grass-roots team wants a certain racing experience that includes no pros and no advertising, there are classes like the J/105 that are very successful classes with close racing and lots of boats.
So, while my politics are generally not conservative, so to speak, sailboat racing is one place where I believe in letting the market take its course....... Nobody needs to quit sailing because of sponsorship or professionals - there are classes they can go to. Racing sailing in this way already does cater to all racing sailors. Artificially limiting sponsorship, as the United States in the interests of "Corinthianism" has been done for far too long, is inherently detrimental to the expansion of the sport. Because sponsorship, whether it is of events or individuals does put money directly into the sport that puts more competitors on the water, which is arguably what everyone is looking for?
Or is it? If we look back say 20 years, we would find fewer competitors, people buying sails less often, fairing their hulls less often, and spending less on the sport to compete. At some point an arms race began, where everyone wanted to do well instead of just have a good time, and people started spending more money, including spending money to hire professional sailors. More people racing, more people wanting to do well, and costs skyrocket. Sponsorship comes about because now there are enough sailors that there is a return on investment for sponsorship dollars. Sponsorship goes to the people who are doing well, and they simply get more money to spend to go fast.
An additional tick to why cost have gone up in the sport is the movement to windward-leeward courses, which puts a higher premium on crew-work and boat preparation (sails & hull), now that we are firmly in the era of "scientific sailing" that we all believe we can accurately predict the wind-shifts all the way around the course and that there is one "right" way to sail. That view is exacerbated by the level of college sailing continuing to climb. Ability levels ARE higher, and expectations of performance have climbed with that. Yet, the entry level sailor's ability has not kept pace - making life rather discouraging for many new, inexperienced, or less committed racers. They tend to not come back. So, if we went back to a time when there were fewer people against which to compete, would we need to spend less? I'm just not sure we can close that Pandoraís Box.....
So why say that all of the three options presented are bad ones? I think we can see that the argument that an owner needs to quit sailing is not really supported. They can, in fact switch classes. If they want to compete in a 'pro class', they can choose to do so without pros or sponsors, and there are many teams in those classes that do in fact sail quite well without as much money spent. There are others who simply like racing at the highest levels enough that they genuinely don't care if they take home pickle dishes. Otherwise, you'd never see 50 or 80 J/24s or Melges 24s on the starting line. So, that option is certainly viable for many people. So who 'needs' sponsorship? Someone who wants to win, but has no money or talent? I'm sorry, but that argument simply does not cut it. Again, if you are getting into a class, you get in knowing what you're up against. If money is the problem, there are ways around that, including partnerships, having the crew help pay their own way (talk about something that not enough teams do), and, yes, finding sponsors. But for an owner to complain that they 'have' to find a sponsor to go racing is disingenuous, IMO.
As said before, sponsor dollars are about ROI. So, more people sailing equates to a higher likelihood of sponsor involvement. Sailors seeing sponsorship growth is one of the ways that we can immediately see if the sport as a whole is growing. That is why people do equate sponsorship with success for the sport. So, again, do we want fewer people racing?
Honestly, we already have fewer people racing than we did 10 or 15 years ago. See the thoughts about what discourages inexperienced racers. But the question of sponsorship, and it's relation to the questions of Corinthianism and Professionalism in the sport, are simply facets of the many changes that have occurred in the sport over its recent history. The following changes have also been argued to 'bring down' the sport at various times, by various people: 1. the rise in prevalence of 'sportboats - they are hard to rate, 2. the rise in prevalence of sportboats - you can't sleep aboard, 3. the rise in price of petroleum-based products, 4. the lack of free time in the average American's work-week, 5. the complication of the rules, 6. the lack of community boating opportunities, 7. the prevalence of W-L racing making it to hard to ease into learning to sail. I'm sure I can come up with more.....
So, the question should not be: Is sponsorship a BAD THING in the sport of sailboat racing? The question should be: How do we turn what already exists in the sport too our advantage? For example, I am in favor of higher regatta fees for sponsored teams - heck, in classes where sponsorship is encouraged, raise the fees for everyone: Take Melges 24's - if the fees were increased, but not for Corinthian teams, the regattas would have more money to throw a better event, and Corinthian teams would get direct benefit from sponsorships of competitors. Also, knowing what companies already sponsor teams and events, enterprising sailors might go to these companies with business proposals, Tax-deductible investments such as community boating centers, etc. We already know these companies know enough about the sport to have invested some money - maybe more in a different venue of sailing would be viable.
As to the specific question of: Should a sailing industry company invest in advertising dollars on a sailing team? Don't kid yourself. There are industry teams at every level of sailing that allows professionals. J/24s, Melges 24s, Mumm 30s and Farr 40s have always had industry representatives sailing in the classes specifically for the purpose of promoting their brand. Just because the teams are not always named "Team XX Racing" is no matter - sailors know who's who, and if they don't they can look at any advertisement for XX brand to find out how many championships were won using those parts. Every gear manufacturer from winches to foulies has their logo on it, and line manufacturers would sew their name into the braid if they could. At least by putting the name in HUGE letters on the side of the boat, Quantum Racing is up front about who benefits if the advert works.