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Why CEO Mark Turner chose the Volvo Ocean Race over the America's Cup

Why CEO Mark Turner chose the Volvo Ocean Race over the America's Cup

When British sailing entrepreneur, Mark Turner, took over the reins at the Volvo Ocean Race earlier this year, the sailing world breathed a sigh of relief, happy in the knowledge that one of our sport’s premiere brands was in safe hands. 

But this was not the first time Turner had been offered one of the top jobs in sailing. He was close to taking over at the America’s Cup prior to the 34th edition in San Francisco but opted to continue with OC Sport, the business he had built from scratch into a significant extreme sports marketing company involved in sailing, cycling and skiing.  

Sail Racing Magazine Editor, Justin Chisholm, asked Turner recently what had been different about the Volvo Ocean Race opportunity.   

Quite a few things, actually. I got as far with the America’s Cup as having a 76-page contract land on my desk. At the time, the plan with the Cup was to divide the sporting side from the commercial and communications side. I would have been CEO of the sporting - the role that Ian Murray ultimately took on. 

The problem with that was that, in my heart, I knew that the successes we’d achieved had come from being able to look across the whole piece – sporting and commercial. When you don’t isolate the two aspects you can modify something on the sporting side because it makes something work better on the commercial side or the communications side - and vice versa. 

Not being able to do that worried me about the America’s Cup structure. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with what they did back then, but I knew the best role for me would have been to preside over the whole thing. 

Plus, at the same time, after I had been growing my business for 15 years, I had the opportunity to get some investment for the Extreme Sailing Series from Ernesto Bertarelli [head of the professional yacht racing syndicate, Alinghi] that would enable us to take it from a European level to a global level.

I had also brought on board a guy called Rémi Duchemin, who was developing the outdoor side of the business. He had just left Amaury Sport Organisation - the organisers of the Tour De France - after being there for 10 years and I'd invested in his little start up, which at that point was the Geneva Marathon ostensibly. That had sparked an interest in me to get into some other sports outside of sailing.

So all that was bubbling up at the same time as the America’s Cup opportunity and the choice was between dedicating myself to one event inside sailing, or to keep pushing on with my business and grow the Extreme Sailing Series into a global entity. I had the chance to develop the business into other sports and bring someone else – i.e. Rémi - on as CEO and step back from the day to day responsibilities.

Then the third element was that I'd just moved my family to live in Chamonix [in the French Alps] at the time and with OC we were going to end up with offices nearby in Geneva or Lausanne. I wanted to live in the mountains and not San Francisco or wherever it might have been. 

The Cup very much revolves around private wealth. There’s nothing negative about that, but if I'm honest, my professional interest has always been around brands and making the sport work on a purely commercial front. For me, that side is more fun and perhaps more interesting. 

It’s important to say that I was close to taking the America’s Cup job, very close to taking it in fact. But in the end, I went a different route.

I think it's wrong to compare the America’s Cup and the Volvo Ocean Race and I don’t know if you really can, but ultimately the Volvo has probably more scale. It has more scale on a global level consistently, across public, B2B or anything else. That said, the America’s Cup is very big and has a big image in some countries, at certain times bigger than the Volvo Ocean Race will probably ever have.

It’s the amount of scale that the Volvo Ocean Race has which makes it so interesting for me. At OC Sport we were always fighting from a lower level scale-wise, so we were limited in what we could actually do and always trying to keep the company together, to survive and not go bust. It’s exciting now to be able to take what I've learned and use the scale of the Volvo Ocean Race to do some much bigger things. 

That’s not to say the Volvo Ocean Race does not face big commercial challenges. It could equally go wrong if we make some big mistakes. Our starting point is something in the region of two and half million visitors and 100,000 VIPs in the last race across 11 venues. 

It’s also important to recognise that when you have a great title sponsor who also happens to be the owner, that gives you a little bit longer term view of things than a normal sports property.

[Image: Ainhoa Sanchez/Volvo Ocean Race]

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