OC Sport rebrands as it reaches out to USA and China, but 'keeping DNA'
By Simon Ward
OC Sport, the international events company, has launched a new brand identity to mark its 20th anniversary, but is to continue to focus on its core areas of sailing, cycling and running, believing there is still untapped potential in these sports.
Following a nine-month review, OC Sport, which organises the Extreme Sailing Series, Chinese team Dongfeng’s campaign in the Volvo Ocean Race, the Haute Route, the amateur mountain-based cycling series, and the Geneva Marathon, among other activities, today unveiled a new logo (pictured, below), strapline (‘Beyond your Horizon’) and website.
The company, which launched in 1998 to promote the activities of British round-the-world sailor Dame Ellen MacArthur, has since expanded into other sports, including cycling, running, trail running and triathlon, driven to a significant extent by its acquisition by Group Télégramme, the French media, sports and entertainment group, in 2014.
Mark Turner, one of OC Sport’s founders, left to head up the Volvo Ocean Race in 2016, but the firm has maintained its raison d'être, while looking to expand its frontiers, opening a new office in USA and engaging more deeply in the Chinese market.
Speaking to Sportcal ahead of the rebranding, Guillaume Semblat (pictured, top), the chief executive of OC Sport, said of the change: “Part of it was to celebrate the 20th anniversary. It is good to be developing and progressing and to open the company to the future. It was also a very interesting internal process because when you do that you have to answer the question: Why are you here?”
He added: “The idea is to keep the DNA of the company and the spirit of innovation and pioneering, and push ourselves to break some boundaries.”
However, there is no ambition to enter other sports, with Semblat saying: “We are quite unique in this market, working in the environment of sailing, cycling and running. There’s been a transformation to an events organising company, and running and cycling is a different environment [from sailing].
“[However], there’s no reason to go to other sports. There’s so much going on in those three areas, and we have good knowledge, and can innovate.”
He added: “We would like to create some new series, but also to adapt ourselves to the market. We think that in sailing, running and cycling there is a lot to do and that they are complementary. They are outdoor sports and close to nature, and the business model is very complementary, largely based on sponsorship.”
OC Sport, which already had premises in the Isle of Wight and London in the UK, Paris in France and Lausanne in Switzerland, has branched out with the opening of an office in Colorado Springs, USA, focused on Haute Route events, and there are plans to establish a new base in Asia in the coming months.
Semblat said: “We are the only company [of our type] involved in the French market and the UK at the same time. These markets are very complementary.”
He added that there is limited interference from above, saying: “Group Télégramme is the main shareholder and is very supportive about what we do, and understand what we do. We have big autonomy.”
On the North American expansion, Semblat stated: “We have opened an office in Colorado to manage all our cycling activities in the US like the Haute Route. Trying to organise an event in the US from Switzerland is quite difficult. We now have a permanent team of seven in the US, and the first event [of 2018] is in a few weeks’ time.
“There is a lot of potential we have identified. We are at the very beginning so have to get some knowledge of the market. However, we believe we have a unique offer.”
The ongoing 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race represents the second campaign for Dongfeng, the Chinese car maker, both of which have been managed by OC Sport, and enabled the latter to put down roots in the Chinese market.
After a third-place finish in 2014-15, Dongfeng presently lies second in the current event, with the seventh leg, across the southern ocean from Auckland in New Zealand to Itajai in Brazil, having got under way this week.
Semblat reflected: “It’s a very, very interesting project, and it’s a human project. [It’s about] how do you make a team of 40 people from six or seven nationalities work together for two years, and with the sailors facing danger and taking risks.”
On the experience of the 2017-18 event, he said: “It’s not easier this time. The level of expectation is higher, but it’s different and the team spirit is excellent. We’ve been quite successful until now. We’ve been learning while we’re working, and really getting to know the group. Our links with Dongfeng are getting stronger.”
On the impact on its Chinese business, Semblat stated: “The Chinese market is so big, but it helps a lot. We’ve also had an act of the Extreme Sailing Series [in Qingdao, in recent years] and had the first edition of a trail running event [Gaoligong by UTMB] through a new joint venture company [UTMB International] this month.”
Sailing remains OC Sport’s most high-profile activity, and the 2018 Extreme Sailing Series, the international ‘stadium racing’ circuit now in its 12th year, got under way at the now established season opening venue of Muscat in Oman last week.
This season is largely focused on Europe and the Americas, with subsequent acts in Italy, Spain, Portugal, Russia and the UK and the series again culminating in San Diego in USA and Los Cabos in Mexico, ahead of a likely return to the Far East at the start of 2019.
Semblat said: “We’ve got a lot of properties in sailing and we want to improve and extend our activities. This will be a big year in France, with three events including the Route du Rhum [the transatlantic single-handed race] starting in Saint Malo."
Yema, the French watchmaker, was today unveiled as the official timekeeper of the 2018 Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe, which is organised by the OC Sport Pen Duick subsidiary. The 40th edition of the event takes place from 24 October to 4 November.
OC Sport does face a challenge to attract commercial backers given that the sports it is involved in are relatively niche, and this is a year of truly global events such as the 2018 Fifa World Cup in Russia.
However, Semblat believes the company offers distinct and attractive properties, pointing to the loyalty of major sponsors such as SAP, the German software giant that recently extended its support for the Extreme Sailing Series, in which it is the title sponsor of the defending champions, until 2022.
He said: “What is important is to be unique. There is a lot of competition in the world, especially in sailing and cycling. We cannot compete with soccer or Formula 1 so we need to be different and that’s what impresses our sponsors. We have a strong relationship with our partners, and they are long-term relationships.”