Cowes Week faces another chapter of change as the investment company’s five-year sponsorship term comes to an end

After some of the most diverse racing in its 180-year history, Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week finishes this weekend facing another chapter of change and the search for a new backer as the investment company’s five-year sponsorship term comes to an end.

Together with the retirement of event director Stuart Quarrie after 17 years and a new sales and marketing director in Kate Johnson, the regatta is undergoing a quiet changing of the guard.

The focus now is on finding a new a sponsor so that the event can continue to invest in technology such as improved course setting software, yacht tracking and video streaming and TV coverage. But as an event driven by local yacht clubs and run largely on volunteer power, a careful balance has to be maintained.

“One of the most interesting things that many people don’t realise is that ten clubs are involved with nearly 600 volunteers from these clubs working together during the course of the week,” says Peter Dickson, chairman of Cowes Combined Clubs and Cowes Week Ltd. “We are very lucky because it generates a lot of loyalty and people come back [to help] year after year.”


Peter Dickson

Peter Dickson, chairman of Cowes Week

The regatta is run by Cowes Combined Clubs, a group of eight different yacht clubs, with a different yacht club helping organise each day’s racing for its prizes. Dickson says the trick is to get continuity of experience throughout the week while making best use of the volunteers available from each of the clubs. With so many involved, co-operation is key. Dickson says he applies his motto: ’Embrace change. But slowly.’

He himself embodies a change in how things have been done, as four years ago he became the first chairman not to be a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron and the first to have been selected after formal applications for the role. Now a new sailing director, yet to be revealed, “is in the wings,” he says, and the search is on for a new sponsor.

“Aberdeen Asset Management really helped bring [Cowes Week] on in terms of the charity side of things, working with the UKSA to get disadvantaged teenagers sailing and encourage youth sailing.  With their sponsorship we developed some of the software we used in course setting and to disseminate information to parts of the regatta that need it, and we have developed filming and commentary with live streaming and highlights,” says Peter Dickson.

“We would like to work towards programme making, with more stories from the racing and personal stories, and we would like to be able to get tracking aboard the boats, which would make course setting more accurate and precise, and help with accessibility for spectators.”

The problem that Aberdeen Asset Management says it has faced in continuing its sponsorship is one facing sailing in general. The effects of the Bribery Act passed in 2010 has made it more difficult for companies to entertain independent financial advisers, the corporate hospitality that was the backbone of sailing sponsorship for them and predecessors Skandia.

“It has come up with Aberdeen Asset Management,” Dickson confirms, “and we know it exists, but it is for each company to make its own evaluations. We have just got to find synergies and similarities in ethos.”

And what if they are not able to manage this in time for Cowes Week next year?

“It is not self-sustaining at its current level without sponsorship, but we could scale back, and not in a way that competitors would notice,” he says. “We can go for a year full-bore with TV and live streaming with the reserves that we have built up, and for competitors much longer.”

He points to a gap of two years between the sponsorships of Skandia and Aberdeen Asset Management as an example of how the regatta could tide over if need be.

But Dickson adds: “Cowes Week is a flagship British regatta in a fantastic stretch of water with a fantastic social background. It is early days, but we are pretty confident we will find a sponsor in time for next year.”