How to raise Class 40 sponsorship

The case of Marco Nannini and UniCredit

Thursday August 19th 2010, Author: Ollie Dewar, Location: United Kingdom

In a financial climate where sports sponsorship is often perceived as an unviable proposition, how are sailors expected to raise corporate interest in yacht racing. Through hard work and commitment, Global Ocean Race 2011-12 entry, Marco Nannini, has already succeeded in attracting enlightened corporations into the offshore racing arena.

Last spring, London-based, Italian sailor, Marco Nannini, bought the Akilaria Class40 Mowgli – a yacht that had recently completed the double-handed, round the world Portimão Global Ocean Race. Nannini’s ultimate goal was to enter the boat in the second edition of the race – the Global Ocean Race 2011-12. Wasting no time, Nannini swiftly secured title sponsorship from the trading and risk management company, SunGard Front Arena, and entered the Shetland Round Britain & Ireland Race sailing double-handed with British yachtsman Paul Peggs. The event was a major success for the duo with SunGard Front Arena taking line honours on three legs of the race and finishing second place overall, just minutes behind the leading Class40.

Shortly after completing this highly-successful circumnavigation of the British Isles, Nannini announced that he had attracted sponsorship for the single-handed Banque Postale Route du Rhum Race from Saint-Malo, France, to Guadeloupe in the Caribbean, starting at the end of October. The source of the sponsorship is the UniCredit Group: a major financial institution with offices in 22 countries. The Italian skipper has worked for UniCredit for five years and although he doubtless has an impeccable track record as an employee, this hardly constitutes a basis for corporate sponsorship in solo offshore racing. So, how did Nannini merit and attract this support?

One compelling factor was clearly his offshore racing CV which includes the 2009 OSTAR transatlantic race during which Nannini sailed the Sigma 36, British Beagle, to an impressive victory in the event’s Jester Class. A second element is UniCredit’s existing link with sailing: the annual UniCredit Sailing Meeting held each autumn when around 400 of the company’s employees from throughout Europe race in friendly, but intense, competition. “The same year as my OSTAR win, I went to the Sailing Meeting for the first time,” explains Nannini. “I met up with Rino Piazolla, Head of Human Resources at UniCredit, and we started talking about the OSTAR and joking about future sponsorship.” The light hearted banter soon led to an email train of serious discussion regarding UniCredit’s potential involvement in the Italian skipper’s future sailing campaigns.

Piazolla was immediately impressed by his colleague’s passionate approach to the sport: “When Marco contacted us after the Sailing Meeting, he stressed that this was the dream of a lifetime when he talked about his plan to take part in the Route du Rhum,” he recalls. “Putting himself to the test, with full respect for the other competitors and the sea, also means experiencing the challenge with the other competitors, all confirmed sailing professionals,” Piazolla continues. “He would be the only non-professional and would get the opportunity to sail with champions who he had always imagined as unreachable. He summarised this by saying that ‘it would be like a football enthusiast having the opportunity to play football with Pelé and Maradona at Maracanà Stadium’.” The company’s Head of Human Resources was quick to grab this opportunity. “We could appreciate how supporting the dream of a colleague would mean linking UniCredit to his dream, and therefore to the mythical challenge between man and the sea,” says Piazolla. “Winning the OSTAR gave added credence to his commitment and showed that he is more than capable of realising his dreams,” he adds.

Soon after the sponsorship deal with UniCredit was agreed, Nannini began a refit on his Class40 at Endeavour Quay in Gosport, Portsmouth, near to the yacht’s base at Haslar Marina. A complete re-wire was undertaken and the distinctive tiger-stripe hull and coach house vinyl of Mowgli was stripped away leaving a plain white surface for UniCredit branding. New sails from Roberto Westermann’s Di-Tech loft in Lavagna, Italy, were also ordered.

Antonella Massari, Head of Group Identity and Communications at UniCredit explains the depth of the company’s financial backing: “UniCredit is giving Marco the chance to compete by contributing a complete set of sails so he can compete in 20 or more days of hard sailing across the North Atlantic,” says Massari. “If you are part of the sailing world it means communicating with the values inherent in this sport: a challenge against nature, on your own, with your own boat, an adventure, but especially the dream of a colleague,” she continues. “Having an employee act as an ambassador for these values will be a success from the company viewpoint.”

The new sails for Nannini’s Class40 UniCredit may already have paid for themselves in terms of brand exposure during Cowes Week at the beginning of August. Throughout three days of corporate sailing in the Solent, the flat-topped mainsail with vertical UniCredit branding was immediately recognisable at considerable distance on even the most overcast days as Nannini and his guests – typically, two managers from UniCredit and six corporate guests – picked their way through the 1,000 racing yachts in the Cowes Week fleets. “The corporate sailing at Cowes was invaluable,” Nannini believes. “I’ve had so many emails and such positive feedback from the managers and their guests,” he reports. “All the managers that sailed onboard agreed that the boat looked so good and was so positive for the image of the company: to be seen out there doing the sailing on a great looking boat.”

This week, Nannini is sailing UniCredit single-handed in the North Atlantic to complete the 1,000 mile mandatory qualifying passage for the Route du Rhum and is looking forward to the challenge of racing against 40 highly-competitive Class40s in October. “It’s a great honour to be sailing in the Route du Rhum,” he confirmed shortly before setting sail on the qualifying passage. “This is the real deal in my opinion, it’s such a major event and the second biggest sporting event in France after the World Cup, so the experience will be outstanding.” For Rino Piazolla, Nannini’s result on the race course is only part of the sponsorship fulfilment: “The measure of UniCredit’s success will be Marco’s actual presence at the start line,” he states. “It takes many months of work to prepare for participation in a race of this type and the biggest challenge will be to ensure that the boat is ready, fast and reliable,” Piazolla continues. “Marco’s goal is to arrive in the middle of the fleet, but the fact that the UniCredit logo is on the sails and that the company has supported a colleague in the realisation of his dream already spells success for UniCredit.”

Meanwhile, with 402 days until the start of the Global Ocean Race in Mallorca on 25 September next year, Marco Nannini’s search for title sponsorship for the double-handed circumnavigation continues. However, the model he has adopted is a proven template and while the sponsorship funds he seeks are far less than the multi-million Euro budget required for a high-end IMOCA Open 60 campaign, the approach is very similar: a healthy lead time enabling maximum exposure for the sponsor’s brand prior to the racing event; imaginative internal and external hospitality programmes; a visible and recognisable profile within offshore racing and a committed and engaged sponsor with a realistic grasp of the return on their investment.

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