Volvo Ocean Race chief executive Knut Frostad has taken a frank look back at the last edition which finished in July and spoken candidly about his aims for 2013 and beyond in a special New Year’s Day interview.
Q: Looking back on the last race in 2011-12, what pleased you most about the 11th edition?
Despite the current very difficult economic scenario in Europe, Volvo Ocean Race proved its solid, important place in the sporting world. We experienced the closest race in our history and showed that when you have the best offshore sailors in the world competing against each other, you’ll have an amazing contest.
Another key milestone was a giant step forward for the media content off the boats we saw in the 2011-12 event. At least four of the media crew members were at least as good as the best one in 2008-09 and we started seeing the true potential of what amazing content we can get from the boats in the future.
We took the Volvo Ocean Race to several new cities, and all of them were great success stories with fantastic local interest, great venues and strong support.
It’s so hard to pick out highlights because there were so many from our stopover ports.
Abu Dhabi lifted the standards for what a great race village can look like; Itajai had the strongest local enthusiasm and support with great footfall every day; Lisbon was impressive in every aspect and probably the best location you can find for a race like ours. And it was marvellous to be back in France with the strong interest for the sport we experienced in Lorient.
Finally, it was a pleasure to be back in Auckland – a city that can claim that the Volvo Ocean Race really belongs there.
Q: In mid-2012 you announced in Lorient the fundamental switch to a one-design boat model. Six months on, how confident are you that the Race made the right decision with this?
I knew this was a bold decision but from the moment we made it, the reactions and feedback I have had from exciting potential teams, the sailors and in particular the sponsors, have been 100% positive.
In fact the more we get into the project the more it makes sense. That said, the project is also complex and demanding on our organisation as we now have added a whole new dimension and area to our team. There is a lot more to it than what was obvious to us when we started.
No one has ever created a true one-design class in high performance offshore racing before and I know why. It is not easy and it is a huge undertaking both financially and in terms of resources to make it all happen on time while working to the smallest possible tolerances.
But we are on track to achieve a great result and I can’t wait to see the first boat out of the yard in the end of June 2013.
Q: What are the other key advancements that you would like to see in the Race for the next edition?
Apart from growing the fleet slightly, the biggest change must come in television and online video. There is so much untapped potential there and so much to tell – we have worked hard on this and will work even harder next race. To bring the race and its sailors to a wider audience in a compelling way. I think we can make a giant step next time – giant!
Another area is getting more and some new nations involved – in particular I am hopeful of seeing a South American team again. That also has an impact on what further we can build the race to become.
Q: What do you see as the key challenges for the Volvo Ocean Race and sailing in general as you enter 2013?
To me the biggest challenge is the enormous amount of various sports and entertainment events filling all the multimedia channels. You have to be good today to win the fans’ attention – bloody good.
Sailing is a beautiful sport, it is dramatic, it is a something so unique and different that I’m confident there is a good place for it going forward. That said, it is also a conservative sport and we must dare to be radical to evolve. It’s not enough today to compare yourself to any other sport. You really need to study what people do watch on their iPads or on their TVs and ask yourself what you need to bring yourselves to the fore.
If sailing can make one big change in 2013 it would be to start working on how to tell its stories better for the fans watching.
Q: If you could have one New Year’s wish come true what would it be?
A great fleet in the Volvo Ocean Race with eight teams signed up by the end of the year coming from all corners of the world. The sooner the better!