Volvo to continue sponsorship of VOR and announce significant changes 17/6/06

Months of speculation over the future of the Volvo Ocean Race ended this morning when race organisers announced revolutionary changes to its route and four-year cycle.

The next race, to begin in 2008 in line with a new three yearly format, may now feature lucrative stops in Asia, the Middle East and America’s west coast. A decision on who hosts the start will be made public in the coming days.

Speaking in Gothenburg Glenn Bourke, CEO of the event, also revealed the Volvo Open 70 design will return to the water for the forthcoming version of the event, two years down the line.

He said: “This is an exciting time in the long and proud history of the Volvo Ocean Race. We felt it was prudent to add new territories to consolidate the race’s position as a truly global sporting spectacle.

“We introduced evolutionary changes in 2005-06 with the Volvo Open 70, In Port racing and an aggressive approach to our marketing communications, with the clear intention of spreading the appeal and the fascination of the race to a broader audience. The race in 2008-09 will take that evolutionary process to the next level.”

Standing alongside principal sponsors Leif Johansson, President and CEO of Volvo Group, and Fredrik Arp, President and CEO of Volvo Car Corporation, Bourke also confirmed two syndicates have already entered the 2008-09 race, with a number of others expressing strong interest.

Their haste is due in no small manner to the exposure the current race has received around the world. Recent estimates suggest a television audience of two billion people from 200 countries have tuned into the event so far, cementing its place within the upper tier of global sports coverage.

Bourke said: “It is unprecedented for us to be in a position to announce confirmed entries so far ahead of the next iteration of the event. It underlines an overwhelming desire on the part of the syndicates and sponsors to be part of the brave new world we have mapped out. We are at a more advanced stage with the planning and preparation for the next event than we have ever been.

“In addition to the two confirmed entries we have had positive discussions with a number of potential syndicate sponsors. We fully expect some of the existing syndicates to confirm their participation over the coming months. Furthermore we are a long way down the road in negotiations with ports in the new territories we plan to visit – that includes Asia and the Middle East.”

Discussing the reasons behind any proposed changes to the race track, Bourke said, “These boats have proven to be amazingly fast, cutting many days off some legs relative to previous races. For instance, the winning boat in 2005-06 completed the entire race in about 25 days less than the winning boat in 2001-02. That puts us in a luxurious position of being able to pick and choose what territories we earmark for future races.

“We know these boats are capable of covering vast distances in a short space of time. That has given us more options in choosing port stopover venues and has brought Asia and the Middle East into play. The die was cast to some extent because we started the 2005-06 race in Spain rather than in England, the traditional home of the Volvo Ocean Race start.”

Bourke went on to explain the decision to amend the traditional four-year format mirrored the opinions of the event’s sponsors and syndicates, who believed viewers’ interest levels dwindled too much between earlier editions of the race.

“We have brought the race forward in order to capitalise on the momentum that has built up during the 2005-06 race and the excitement generated among the non-sailing audiences by the Volvo Open 70. These stunning boats have captured the imagination of a whole new set of fans.”

Leif Johansson, President and CEO of the Volvo Group, explained the vast coverage was key to their decision to continue investing in the event. “The Volvo Ocean Race has been a great success for us. Nearly two billion viewers have followed the race on TV and surveys confirm that it continues to strengthen our brand. At the same time, it has been an excellent platform for various customer contacts around the world. Expanding the race to include Asia feels totally correct and we are looking forward to continuing to develop the Volvo Ocean Race competitively and commercially.”

Fredrik Arp, President and CEO of Volvo Car Corporation, reaffirmed Johansson’s stance. “We are very pleased with the way Volvo Ocean Race 2005-06 has successfully contributed to develop the brand image of Volvo Cars. It is a global, dynamic and exciting event which has delivered strong positive associations to the Volvo brand.

“The media coverage has by far exceeded the last race in 2001-02 and the response both inside and outside the company has been very positive.”

Bourke compared the global appeal of the race to the human endeavour of the sailors attempting to battle nature and the fastest monohull yachts in history. “The Volvo Open 70 does a lot of talking for us. We are all in awe of their speed and performance,” he said. “Throw in the fact that you have ten guys onboard attempting to tame this beast in hostile weather conditions or cajole every last ounce of speed from them in lighter airs, on a race track of over 31,000 nautical miles, and you have all the ingredients for cutting edge drama.”