Les Ultims sponsorisés par des banques

French ocean racing: competition between banks is hotting up

From the Arkéa Ultim Challenge to the recent Banque Populaire Grand Ouest Trophy and so including the Transat CIC and the CIC Normandy Channel Race and of course including the Figaro, Class40, Imoca and Ultims in the colors of Crédit Mutuel, Arkea and their competitors, the sponsorship battle is hotting up between major players in the French banking sector who see a great value in partnerships in offshore and ocean racing sailing. Tip & Shaft investigates.

Sailing has always attracted partners from the banking sector starting out with pioneering brands like Crédit Agricole – sponsor of Philippe Jeantot from 1983 to 1991 – but head and shoulders above the rest is Banque Populaire which started out in sailing in 1989 with Francis Joyon. “In 2000 we became a partner of the FF Voile. We then decided to become ‘the sailing bank’ as there is a tennis bank (BNP Paribas) and a rugby bank (Société Générale)”, recalls Thierry Bouvard, sponsorship ans patronage director at BPCE group. They are now sponsors of Armel Le Cléac’h in the Ultim and Clarisse Cremer in the Imoca. But Banque Populaire are also present in the territories via their regional subsidiaries, particularly in the West of France where Banque Populaire Grand Ouest (BPGO) supports both sailors and events.

But the historic sailing sponsor are seeing its leadership in the sport increasingly challenged. If BPGO were the main partner of the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe in 2018, they were then replaced by the CIC for the 2022 edition. “Immediately after the last edition, we spoke with Banque Populaire Grand Ouest to discuss the continuation of the partnership,” explains Joseph Bizard, general manager of OC Sport Pen Duick. We made a proposal which obviously did not find a positive feeling since they did not follow up; and time was pressing so we asked CIC, with whom we had built the Transat CIC [which did not take place in 2020, editor’s note].”

That is a notion which not the one of Maurice Bourrigaud, CEO of Banque Populaire Grand Ouest: “We had entered into negotiations to renew the partnership and at the third stage of the planned duration of this negotiation, OC Sport warned us that they had chosen the CIC. So it was absolutely not the choice of BPGO, on the contrary we would have liked to be the main partner again.” He adds: “Now, I respect the decision of OC Sport and the fact that the CIC took the place place such is the the law of the open market. I explained my way of thinking to OC Sport, we are long-term allies and of course we will work together again I am sure.”


Arkea goes up in power


The episode serves to highlight the increasing competition in recent years between Banque Populaire, the Crédit Mutuel group (owner of CIC) and Crédit Mutuel Arkéa (rivals with the Crédit Mutuel group), competition which has taken on a new dimension in recent month. Present for several years on the Figaro Beneteau circuit – in particular with the Bretagne-Crédit Mutuel de Bretagne -, partner with Paprec in the Imoca, of Sébastien Simon on the last Vendée Globe and now with Yoann Richomme on the next one, Crédit Mutuel Arkéa is thus became the title partner of the Arkéa Ultim Challenge last April, an Ultim solo race around the world from Brest, for the first two editions (2023 and 2027).

“When OC Sport contacted us, we were quite quick to decide and it was really because a combination of elements made this partnership obvious and natural, explains Cédric Malengreau, director of the general secretariat and institutional communication at Crédit Mutuel Arkéa. “Firstly, our head office is in the the Brest area, then because the race brings together different institutions with which we have close and regular relations.”

The latest to arrive in the arena, Crédit Mutuel and its subsidiary CIC, made a sensational entry into the market: first by embarking on the Class40 circuit with Ian Lipinski in 2018, then by becoming title partner of The Transat CIC in 2019, the major partner of the Route du Rhum in 2020 and title partner of the CIC Normandy Channel Race in 2021! “CIC’s commitment corresponds to our desire to position our network with the local economic ecosystemand the race attracts from this point of view a significant number of companies and economic players, particularly in the regions of the west of France”, justifies Daniel Baal, Managing Director of Crédit Mutuel Alliance Fédéral and CIC.


The response of Banque Populaire to CIC


Banque Populaire responded quickly: BRED, a subsidiary of the group well established in Normandy and overseas, became the main partner of the Transat Jacques Vabre 2021, before BPGO took on the naming partnership of Spi Ouest France the same year. And now the new BPGO Trophy. Finally, very recently, it became official partner of the Vendée Globe, the first private partner after Sodebo.

The question is was it to close the door to others? We do not make our marketing strategy by looking at what others are doing, but according to what we need to tell and share with our public, our customers, our members and our collaborators”, answers Thierry Bouvard. “We tell a story that’s been established for a very long time, others have more of a desire for exposure at some point. Our goal is not to get into one-upmanship with anyone.”

“The eviction of Banque Populaire Grand Ouest from the Route du Rhum was a strong enough catalyst for their decision to come to the Vendée, knowing that others were interested in taking it on”, however analyzes onemarket player. “On the Arkéa side, the tension with the Crédit Mutuel group are also probably playing into this competition. And I think it’s not over.” “We are always on the lookout for events or actions that reflect our values and resonate throughout the territories, so it is not impossible that other initiatives will be taken in the future,” confirms Daniel Baal for Crédit Mutuel.


The issue of the branding in the sails


In any case, this competition benefits the organizers… who may be tempted to capitalise on it. Mathieu Sarrot, co-shareholder with Emmanuel Bachellerie of Ultim Sailing, which organized the BPGO Trophy and takes care of the new Finistère Atlantique Challenge Action Enfance – for which he asked BPGO to come on board, refuses to play this game: “It’s clear that we see that the market is hot in the banking sector in the west of France. Now, I’m more about good relationships than just a seeker of short term gains, I prefer to retain a partner.”

There is one issue which seems set to be contentious, the branding of sails in the colors of the race partner. During the BPGO trophy, the title sponsor agreed not to brand the sails of the Figaro Beneteau to prevent its logo from appearing on those of the two Bretagne-Crédit Mutuel de Bretagne boats.

The subject is quite sensitive, as Thierry Bouvard acknowledges, who will be confronted with it when Clarisse Crémer races The Transat CIC or when Armel Le Cléac’h sets off on the Arkéa Ultim Challenge. “Our wish is that we should not create confusion between our brands, so we do not want to wear the CIC or Arkéa brand on the sails of Banque Populaire. We have to discuss it maturely and intelligently. ” Joseph Bizard, organiser of the two races, answers: “We’ve already been confronted with this in the past, and we’ve been able to manage it,. So there’s no reason why we can’t handle it again.”


Photo: Yvan Zedda 

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