The Shifting Tides of Sponsorship

2016 Festival of Sails Passage Race. Photo by Saltwater Images

There was a time, not so long ago, when sponsorship sloshed around events like champagne around a Kardashian. Then came the global financial crisis and corporate marketing largesse met the sobering realities of fiscal downgrades, falling profit margins and budget cuts.

What has all this meant for those seeking sponsors? For a start, there is a lot less swank and schmooze and a lot more meeting corporate objectives, meeting sponsor expectations and, generally, a lot more meetings.

The good news is that most businesses and brands do participate in some form of sponsorship; you just have to get the offer right.

Even for the very high profile events, activities and causes, securing sponsorship isn’t all smooth sailing. Looking at how the city’s largest event, the Festival of Sails, has navigated the shifting tides of sponsorship provides some valuable insights for anyone hoping to hook some additional support.

The major event will cross the starting line tomorrow and Royal Geelong Yacht Club Vice-Commodore, Peter Alexander (no, not the pyjama guy), said that whilst the yacht club has been fortunate in attracting significant support, sponsorship is the toughest part of putting together an event of this magnitude.

At the same time as many companies are reducing their sponsorship spend, the competition for sponsorship has increased rapidly. It is a situation that has left most potential sponsors quite rightly asking, ‘What’s in it for me?’

If the commitment of a passionate few is the engine room of an event – any event – then money is the grease that keeps the show moving forward. Sponsorship money, if it talked, would probably repeat words like profile, demographics, visitor numbers, community and feel good. If you said sport, the money might just grin a little.

As Australia’s oldest sporting event and one of the Victoria’s 11 major events, incorporating the largest annual keel boat regatta in the Southern Hemisphere, a free family-friendly community festival, broad appeal and more than a little wow factor, the Festival of Sails ticks a lot of those big sponsorship boxes.

In the past, sizeable corporations such as Audi and Skandia poured international event-level branding budgets into the Geelong-based regatta. Today, sponsorship is increasingly local and founded on strategic relationship building.

The principal sponsor of the event is Rex Gorell Land Rover, with the dealership currently in the second year of a three-year deal that will see next year’s 175th regatta branded with their logo. 

Intrusion, 2016 Festival of Sails. Photo by Saltwater Images 

Of course, branding plays a significant part in the decision of a company such as the Rex Gorell Family Group to align themselves with an event like the Festival of Sails. Marcus Tomczak, Gorell Group marketing manager said that the connections between Land Rover, a regatta of this profile, and the local Geelong community are an obvious fit.

“It’s one of those events that has drilled right into our core in Geelong and it makes sense for another family name like Rex Gorell to be a part of that,” Marcus said.

“We had a huge amount of support from our manufacturer, Land Rover in this case, when we got involved in the Festival of Sails, because Land Rover is so heavily involved in sailing around the world.”

After approaching Land Rover with the sponsorship proposal, the luxury four-wheel drive manufacturer came back to the Gorell group with the suggestion of bringing the brand’s Terrapod to Geelong for the event.

The Terrapod is an experience-based demonstration provided by the dedicated Land Rover Experience team. The queues at last year’s event to jump into a latest-model Land Rover or Range Rover and see what the vehicles can do on what are essentially mechanical mountains set at breathtaking inclines were proof of just how popular this particular branding exercise is.

The Land Rover Terrapod. Photo by Saltwater Images

Interested? Get in early because it is unlikely the queues are going to be any shorter this year.

“It gave us a way to showcase what the cars can do in a way you can’t do in a test drive,” Marcus said. “It also gave us an opportunity to take over the Waterfront, I suppose, for one weekend of the year. If you walk down the foreshore during the Festival of Sails you will be almost guaranteed to see a Land Rover being showcased somewhere, which is always good.”

The State Government and the City of Greater Geelong are also key supporters of the event. And like all sponsors, governments like to quantify the events they provide funding for. This thirst for figures gives the rest of us an insight into the numbers underpinning major events. 

How does Geelong’s Festival of Sails stack up?

2016 in numbers:

  • 118,000+ visitors
  • 2502 participants
  • 320 boats
  • 124 races
  • $20.7 million* economic impact (*unconstrained. Source: City of Greater Geelong)

To put that last sizeable number into perspective, the 2015 Melbourne Grand Prix had a moveable economic return figure (and, let’s face it, most economic return or benefit figures are moveable depending on the measures applied) of between $5 million and $39 million, attracted 296,600 visitors to the event and anywhere between 20 million to as many as 400 million viewers worldwide, depending on whose figures you are prepared to believe.

If you want to see big Australian event numbers, the Australian Open serves them up in style. A Deloitte Access Economics report put the return to the state of the 2014 grand slam at $245.5 million, with the event creating 1400 jobs. In 2015, a record 703,000 visitors poured through the tournament’s gates.

This year’s Festival of Sails includes a world championship event that should further boost the economic return of the event as well as generating additional interest from yachting fans.

The scheduling of the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race over the Australia Day weekend that the yachting regatta has in previous years run across threw up a few challenges for the event organisers at the yacht club, but the opportunity to extend major event activity on the Geelong Waterfront for an extra few days was seized upon. The regatta was shifted back to begin on Saturday 21 January and, fortuitously, has allowed for the polo on Australia Day as a partner event to the Festival of Sails and attracted interest from some of the super maxis returning from the Sydney to Hobart.

“One of the key metrics for the state government support that [the event] receives is the numbers of interstate and overseas visitors we receive. So for us, encouraging people to come and stay for the week and to go around and see what the region has to offer has been a really important,” Peter said.

 More than 118,000 flocked to the Shoreside Festival in 2016.

The Festival’s charity of choice is Geelong Connected Communities, with the community company sponsoring the Shoreside Festival for the third consecutive year.

“At its simplest, the main objective of Geelong Connected Communities is enriching the lives of the people of Geelong,” said Chair of Geelong Connected Communities, Roger Grant. “That’s addressing social issues, but it’s also celebrating where we live.

“When you look at the Festival of Sails and the fact that it also combines Australia Day, I think it is the time for the people of Geelong to rejoice in where they live. So, for us, the logic [of partnering with the event] is very much there.”

There are no shortage of events, community projects, social issues and activities that organisations can sponsor. The decision to choose one above the countless others comes down to the why. Why this event / cause / issue / activity and what makes it ring true for potential sponsors?

“We really look at events that do integrate themselves into the fabric of living in Geelong – regardless of how tough or how well you’re doing - like Gala Day and like the Festival of Sails,” Roger said.

“Part of our program, as you would expect of a community organisation, is to address disadvantage, to supporting people who are doing it hard for a variety of reasons. And part of that challenge is focusing on some of the positives.”

A major community event provided free of charge was a major attractor for Geelong Connected Communities. Photo by Saltwater Images

He said that now, more than ever, sponsorship is seen as a means of aligning corporate values with community values; alignments that can be clearly in the sponsorship choices of GMHBA and Cotton On in Geelong.

“For us, it is our partnership with the Bendigo Bank that allows us to do this. I think it’s important for people in Geelong to understand that while Geelong Connected Communities is the organisation writing the cheques for people, it’s actually the relationship with the Bendigo Bank and other institutions in Geelong that have partnered with us that contributes to that funding pool,” Roger said.

The Shoreside Festival is a free and inclusive event for the community, which ticks some big boxes for Geelong Connected Communities and among the feel-good stories around the community festival is the new addition of the Tall Ships Series to this year’s event.

Four tall ships will anchor in Geelong for parts of the Festival, including the spectacular STS Tenacious. The British vessel is the largest wooden boat in operation in the world and around half of the crew of the fully wheelchair accessible ship have a disability. 

Around half of the crew of the STS Tenacious have a disability

 Avalon Airport has come on board as a new major sponsor of the event in 2017, sponsoring the Australia Day Fireworks Display and the tourism connection between the airport and the event is an obvious one. What is a little harder to imagine is participants or visitors making a flight choice based on some sponsorship. I asked Avalon Airport CEO, Justin Giddings, what value the airport gained out of the deal.

“Being able to sponsor things like this, particularly in your local area, is part of being a good corporate citizen and that’s the number one reason we are involved,” Justin said.

“The value for us comes from being associated with an event that is a very happy time for most people. That’s what we like to do. We are a very much a leisure and visiting friends and family airport and being involved with the Festival of Sails provides a strong synergy with those sorts of values.”

The airport’s sponsorship strategy sees Avalon also supporting the 2017 Oates Vic Open in early February, the Geelong Football Club as well as local football sporting clubs.

“I think it’s a really good way of getting in front of potential new customers without spending a lot of money in advertising. And I think it’s really appreciated. The Festival of Sails brings thousands and thousands of people down to the foreshore and they don’t have to pay a cent. It’s a good time of the year in Geelong, a great time for families to enjoy themselves,” he said.

This year's Australia Day Fireworks will be sponsored by Avalon Airport

 “The Australia Day Fireworks sits between the Festival of Sails and the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race and for us to have a recognizable presence during that period is a great thing. I don’t think anyone’s going to see that and think, ‘Wow, I’m going to go and book a flight’ but the will see the positive association. That’s what it’s about.”

If you are trying to chase down sponsorship this year or are looking to get involved as a sponsor, taking a good look at the social and corporate value for money proposition is a good place to start.

Feature Image Courtesy: Tract Consulting
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