The recent story of the Fastnet moving its finish from Plymouth to Cherbourg (You can read the full story from Tip & Shaft here) followed the exodus across the Channel of The Transat which changed its start from Plymouth to Brest both prove that in Ocean and Offshore Racing nothing is guaranteed. As they search for tourism and investment profile and direct economic benefits, towns and cities are deploying different strategies, some of them very proactively such as Les Sables d’Olonne which has just added the Mini Transat to a growing roster of Vendée events. Here is a look at the state of play in France and in Portsmouth, the only English waterfront city which is pressing ahead with investment in sailing events, most notably June’s Emirates America’s Cup World Series event which will see the AC75s racing in England for the first time.
Offshore and ocean racing the start and finish ports are now increasingly set to reflect the needs of the organisers, stakeholders, sponsors, elected officials and public decisions makers. At OC Sport, the Director of Development and Partnerships Joseph Bizard confirms: “We actively prospect for cities but also we do receive spontaneous approaches from towns which wish to invest in offshore racing, or who want to come back in after a break.”
Negotiation can prove long and complex. Or they can be short and direct as was the case with The Transat CIC where Brest is now preferred to Plymouth as the host city. “The Transat was an opportunity for us. The managers of the Groupe Télégramme and OC Sport came here to suggest the start would be good for here. I immediately agreed”, says Mayor François Cuillandre.
It is of course the normal arrival city for Jules Verne Trophy finishes but Brest is back on the big offshore racing circuit. Since the early 2000s, the Finistère port was a sporadic player welcoming the Istanbul Europa Race in 2009 (in Imoca) and the Krys Ocean Race in 2012 (in MOD 70), the start of the Brest-Martinique Transat in 2013 (Figaro). And now, more recently Brest stepped in to host and sponsor the Ultims, so well known to Brest residents, and were due to host their first solo round the world race at the end of 2019. That, of course, was postponed to 2023 and replaced last Autumn by Brest Atlantiques which was the first major race to depart from the Finistère port in a long time.
The announcement of The Transat CIC between Brest and Charleston was big news when it happened. The partnership with OC Sport has been signed for a future edition. For what amount? “The level of investment has not been definitively determined and has not yet been voted in council”, explains François Cuillandre. “But it will be roughly the same as that of Brest Atlantiques”. To bring together the four Ultims at the start, Brest Métropole, associated with the department of Finistère and the Brittany region, allocated 550,000 euros (excluding tax to the event), including 390,000 euros from the city region alone.
Opportunities and tenders
The route of other major races is usually the subject of tenders. That is the case, for example, with the Solitaire du Figaro or the Mini-Transat. In addition to a required financial contribution, there are always technical services provided at an average ratio of 40/60. These specifications include the organization of the village, on-site communication, electricity, entertaining and hosting the public, security and so on. “Our job, explains OC’s Bizard, it is to push the level of community engagement. The risk for us is that a city has the financial capacity to afford a great race but does not invest to the suitable level to make it all work.”
Near the top of the event specifications, the provision of port capacity is obviously a key element. That is one of the aspects that lost Plymouth the Fastnet Race finish. The Cherbourg offer with the huge basin in the town centre was a great attraction to the RORC. Correspondingly Plymouth has parallels with La Rochelle which has ceded the Mini Transat to Les Sables d’Olonne as the fishing boat harbour has pride of place in the middle of the city rather than an expansive marina, so the Mini 650s have signed with Les Sables d’Olonne for the next three years.
How did the Sablais do it? For Lionel Pariset, deputy mayor in charge of sports for the Vendée area says, “The Les Sables d’Olonne Vendée Course au Large club already had long established solid links with the Classe Mini and it has been very active. But the interaction with an organizer is not only about the financial or technical offerings. The elected representatives need to show a passion and willingness and from this point of view, Yannick Moreau [the mayor of Les Sables d’Olonne] has been very active.” For their Transat the Minis will be passing down the legendary channel on to the Atlantic until at least 2025 – ” Of course the channel effect itself that may have played a part “says Pariset,
In the space of a year, the port of the Vendée Globe has seemingly gone into overdrive, cited as “The new stronghold of ocean racing” by French sailing media stable Voiles et Voiliers. In addition to supporting racers and organizing several races like the Mini (Les Sables-Les Açores-Les Sables), Class40 (Les Sables-Horta) and Figaro (Solo Maître Coq), the port of Sables d’Olonne, has a busy calendar ahead: New-York Vendée this year, the Vendée Globe to follow, then the second edition of the Golden Globe Race in 2022 and in between the Mini-Transats!
“Our idea is to have at least one big event each year. It is necessary to work towards the long term because the investment is important”, comments Lionel Pariset. There is 1.8 million euros invested in the Vendée Globe, more than 100,000 euros for an edition of the Mini-Transat, 60,000 for New-York Vendée, an almost equivalent figure for Les Sables-Horta (55,000 euros) when a Solo Maitre coq costs the city 25,000 euros. And Les Sables are asking for more since they could once again become a stage city for the Tour Voile, missing out this year, back in 2021.
On its part Brest prefers to move more slowly. Cuillandre says : “The cost of these events is significant, and we must continue to support other events such as the maritime festivals and support Olympic sailing”. “Investments are costly and often force other communities to get involved” confirms Sébastien Tasserie, deputy mayor of Le Havre and their sports delegate:” An event like the Transat Jaques Vabre Normandie Le Havre is great but it needs to attract new private investors to achieve a good financial balance. This is why the involvement of the Normandy region, in direct contact with the economic impact, was essential for us this year and justified the change of the naming of the race. ”
If local investment in offshore racing sometimes does raise local opposition, the best counter is to quantify the direct benefits and its spinoffs. Whether it is profile, direct economic spinoffs (hotels, restaurants, rentals …) or media profile, there is a direct return for major popular events. The Transat Jacques Vabre says it achieved 7.5 million euros in returns for the 2017 edition. The mayor of Saint-Malo is claiming 30 million euros in revenue for his city during the 2014 edition of the Route du Rhum. Over the course of 3 weeks operation of the village, the owner of the Vendée Globe, Yves Auvinet, announced 38 million euros of benefit during the last edition.
For less prestigious events, the question remains sensitive and requires a more detailed analysis. “You can’t just arrive with a standard package,” said Joseph Bizard at OC Sport. “You have to adapt to the town. More and more, cities need to be reassured about the benefits. Today we find ourselves doing the work we do with private sponsors so analyzing the return in all its different forms has become essential. ”
Beyond measuring the impact, for Lionel Pariset, the real difficulty is “Sharing the strictly sporting dimension of an offshore racing event with the wider general public”. It is a challenge which will once again face the Vendée Globe since the SAEM Vendée has decided to retain the Race Control Offices in Les Sables d’Olonne for this edition when it previously it has always decamped to Paris. The highlights of the finishes will probably be sold out, but what will happen during the three months of racing? Even on the super fast Imocas, racing round the world remains a long road.
Meanwhile in England, Portsmouth will host the Emirates America’s Cup World Series in early June this year, following on from the massive success of two previous ACWS events. According to event director Lesley Ryan, “Portsmouth are very proud of their heritage as a naval, maritime city. When we first spoke to them (well before the first ACWS) they did not have an event strategy in place for big sailing events. You will remember they hosted a Volvo stop in 2006 but then they felt they got very little in return for it.” Ryan recalls, “We did a lot of work from 2014 and they are now quite specific about what Portsmouth want in return. Between the two ACWS events the return was measured at €13m mostly due to additional visitors spend and accommodation.”
Ryan confirms that the lion’s share of the €2.5m budget for the upcoming Emirates America’s Cup World Series event will come from the airline which has a valuable market flying out of London. “We will look for an additional three to five sub sponsors, such as official timekeeper and automotive partners. Portsmouth contribute services in kind.” Ticketing accounts for up to 20,000 visitors a day paying on average £20.
“Portsmouth did prove that we could attract and entertain large volumes of visitors. The event fascinated people from all walks of like. Over the 2015 and 2016 events there was just shy of 248,000 people through the sites. Where we do suffer a bit in comparison with the big French races is that in Les Sables d’Olonne and Saint Malo for example, the visitors can get right up close and see the boats, and often the skippers. I would like to see us able to improve in this area.”
“Without a doubt Portsmouth have a good grip on what the benefits of hosting major sailing events are and they are keen to see the city develop and grow. They are keen on hosting influential businesses and individuals at the event, so previously having Oracle and BMW at events are a part of the appeal”, Ryan concludes.
Photo: Yvan Zedda / Brest Atlantiques