Challenges of Managing Sponsorship Programs for a World Sporting Event

By Jurrie Van den Berg

The 2017-18 edition of the prestigious Volvo Ocean Race was recently completed by world-class sailors from all over the world travelling a distance of 45,000 nautical miles. ATPI Sports Events – part of the ATPI Group – managed the coordination of sponsorship activation, travel & hospitality and guest experience programs for the race, which took place over 10 months.

ATPI managed 200 travel programs for 17,000 guests, including participants and 15 partners and sponsors for the complete duration of the Volvo Ocean Race, which took place across 12 destinations.

The following are some key challenges that need to be considered when planning sponsorship activation and guest experience programs during a major sporting event that heavily relies on the weather and offers no guarantee on timings. In creating these total experiences, the objectives of the sponsors and stakeholders are central. Every client is unique and looking for tailor-made solutions with regard to branding, invitation policy and appropriate guest experience.

Leap of faith

At the start of the collaboration, set a clear framework with the client to understand the requirements of the various stakeholders. Volvo Ocean Race consciously sought a global hospitality agency that offered “guest experiences”. Compare it to sitting next to Max Verstappen during an F1 race or in the director’s box at a Champions League match. The goal was really to bring the sailing sport, the team members and the guests together to create a completely unique experience. When you undoubtedly understand the client’s ambitious goals, you can tailor the experience program to them.

Embrace the sport

The boats determine the pace of the race, and this is also the speed of the program, which can be a logistical challenge for all. It’s essential that you embrace the essence of the sport and therefore also know that there are unpredictable elements that you cannot control – like wind, and this determines the flow of the program. In a race of this nature if the wind does not blow, the boats arrive later than scheduled. We experienced this with the boats arriving 11 hours later than expected in Hong Kong. Extensive experience with sailing events aided ATPI in responding quickly to such changes and meant that hospitality & guest experience programs could be adjusted and alternatives arranged.

Energy in the preliminary process

Support from the host countries is vital – without it you could risk putting on an incredible experience with no attendees there to enjoy it. You should invest energy and budget into the timely activation of the preliminary process. Ask the local markets for input and create internal support. Carefully map out your stakeholders, research the local goals, analyse the needs and think about how to attract the desired guests to your event. Spending considerable time on your internal campaign, communicating clear goals and starting the invitation process in time is key to a successful event.

Guest experience

ATPI was asked to build a number of standard packages, which were used as a guide on every stop-over. However, from our experience we are well aware of the fact that most clients have unique wishes, objectives and preferences that cannot be satisfied in a standard package. Together with local partners we examined these needs and the different target groups to build a premium experience. In the end, 90% of the packages sold were tailor-made premium experiences that we created with local partners.

Deep breath

The race lasts 10 months and that’s a long time. This is what makes the Volvo Ocean Race and the programs so unique. ATPI, along with the organizers, partners and sponsors of the race began preparation in 2015, two years prior to the event. You must be open and willing to develop together, through experience and learning. We were determined to make the 12th stop as exciting and premium as the first and could calculate the necessary arrangements early on. Part of this planning was setting up teams who could alternate, refresh and scale up on the go – and providing them with the same briefing so we always had our flags pointing in the same direction: excellence.

Jurrie Van den Berg, general manager of ATPI Corporate & Sports Events. For more information visit: