The Route du Rhum 2022, with 138 boats registered, confirmed what sailing enthusiasts have observed for several years: the offshore race attracts more people. Public, sponsors… Sailing races don’t seem to be in crisis. In a series dedicated to this success and sponsorship, Western France attempts to provide some answers to this growing success. Interview with Thierry Bouvard, director of sponsorship and patronage at Banque Populaire, partner of Armel Le Cléac’h.
Are you surprised by the evolution of ocean racing, which continues to attract new partners?
There has been success around sailing for a long time but I am surprised that such success did not come sooner. It is a sport that fully highlights the human being in all that he has: courage, capacity for change, unity, resistance, tactical and strategic intelligence… This is the treasure of this sport, and you are not the only one thinking of me.
Beyond this human highlight, what are the other advantages of sailing compared to other sports?
There is a real advantage in terms of visibility. We are in things that carry our brands, which is rare, so our visibility in the media is already full of meaning. When the media uses the images of Armel (Le Cléac’h), alone in the leadership of an Ultim and in difficult conditions, it already says something about the Banque Populaire. It now associates the brand with courage and determination. The sailor carries meaning and brand.
After all, isn’t there a natural affinity between a captain and a company boss?
We are totally here for that. We are the leading bank for entrepreneurs in France and we chose this sport because it strongly conveys the values of entrepreneurship and success. For us, a skipper is exactly like a businessman. He must create his environment to evolve, have a team even if he is alone with an idea, develop technical and ecological solutions and, at some point, he must have the courage to start. There is a fascinating parallelism between entrepreneurship and sailing. We play a lot with it to the point of going, to the choices of our constructions, to the business models. If we take the example of Banque Populaire XI, 150 companies in the region participated in the construction of this boat. It is also a collective business venture.
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“You can become a major player in your sport”
Does the very positive image of sailing, unlike other sports, make it easier for employees to accept sponsorship?
Yes, it’s easy to go. There is great pride in our skippers, and in our adventures. What is interesting is that there is a lot of pride. People are proud of Armel, they have love for him, but they are also proud of what was built. It is like for a company headquarters or a building, the group has invested in something that is a peak of technology, that is innovative, that brings modern solutions. There is both human and object pride, and in our case, in addition, unity. Throughout July and August, I receive pictures on my cell phone of employees with their child wearing a Banque Populaire life jacket, or next to a Banque Populaire flag on the front of a building or on the sail of an Optimist …
Does the economic system of sailing, which relies heavily on sponsorship, also allow companies to find more than a billboard?
Indeed, you can become a major player in your sport. Sailing sponsorship is sponsorship in which the sponsor is heavily involved. It has nothing to do with buying land space. A sailing sponsor is a committed sponsor, who accepts a certain amount of risk and the joys that come with it. That’s why he is also very entrepreneurial. Just the start of a race, less calm and less peaceful than being in a box at the Parc des Princes (laughs).
“We are happy with the results”
It is also a sponsorship that pays. Today, several partners complained about the collapse.
For Clarisse Crémer’s Vendée Globe, the impact was calculated to be around 22 million. For Armel four years ago, they were 55 million. Our total annual budget is approximately 7.5 million euros (Banque Populaire supports Armel Le Cléac’h, Clarisse Crémer, but also the French Olympic sailing team and sailing schools) so of course we are happy with the result. It is an amount that is significant but reasonable and justified and we are very attached to ensuring that the budgets remain reasonable and accessible to SMEs so that we do not fall into a system of large sponsors.
It is important that these companies can fit into this system, it is not in line with our values to be in an excluded sport. And not only small businesses can exist there, but they can even win and do extraordinary media stunts. There are companies that we didn’t know about before they entered the Vendée Globe. In other sports that focus on getting advertising or space, if you don’t put up a lot of money, you don’t have anything. With sailing, you can exist on a fairly reasonable budget.
Today, supporting an athlete for the Paris Olympic Games in sailing is very affordable. In the Performance Pact set by the state, in sponsorship, it is 20,000 euros, which after tax deduction amounts to 9,000. The entry ticket is attractive.
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Finally, do you see any other factors that could explain why the offshore race is not experiencing a crisis?
Of the pure properties, there are also those close to the public. The gatherings around the pontoons were simply magical. You have to see the aisles of the Vendée Globe, the Route du Rhum. This is a truly popular communion. There is also an environmentally friendly aspect of the sport, although it still needs to improve in this area.
Western France offers you a six-part series on ocean racing success and sailing sponsorship:
Episode 1: isn’t the ocean race going through a crisis?
Episode 2: investment in sailing, a winning bet, Saturday October 29
Episode 3: “A captain is exactly like a businessman”, Sunday October 30
Episode 4: “Getting a box in the Parc des Princes has nothing to do with it”, Monday October 31
Episode 5: “Only two sports where the sponsor is permanently named”, Tuesday 1eh November
Episode 6: “The idea is that people wonder who we are”, Wednesday, November 2