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Regattas Behind the Scenes – The Value of Sponsorship

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Your sponsor or sponsors may not know how to sail, but without them on board it’s just about impossible to host both large and small Caribbean regattas. And even if you have a seemingly-solid sponsor on board, circumstances may change suddenly, as was the case this year for Antigua Sailing Week.  (See preview article this issue.)

Heather Tackling, director of the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta says, “Large events take large amounts of money to run. Sponsors play a vital role in making sure we can pay our bills.”

Sponsors are crucial to smaller regattas as well, says Julie San Martin, director of the St. Croix International Regatta. “Even a club race tends to be an expense item. Entries almost never cover the cost of the prizes.”

Seeking sponsorship is a job in itself. “For 2007 and 2008, our regatta team members delivered and sent sponsorship packages to every business we thought might be a possibility,” says San Martin. This year, the commodore is part of our regatta team and she asked the Yacht Club membership to contribute and they have. The largest contribution was $2500; the others are smaller. As a result, we’ll likely cover our expenses.”

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The St. Thomas Yacht Club’s International Rolex Regatta has had the same major sponsor for 36 years. “Having a long time sponsor with the international reach and prestige of Rolex assures recognition and makes it mandatory to put on as close to a flawless regatta as possible. Which in turn makes attracting local support that much easier. We consider it essential to include local businesses in the regatta,” says regatta co-director, John Sweeney.

Seeking sponsorship is even tougher this year with the world’s economic woes. Tackling says, “Potential sponsors with whom we have been negotiating for months have pulled back and put us on hold. Everyone is watching their money…so we too are on hold and trying to find new sponsors outside of the local market, companies with global marketing goals who have bigger marketing budgets than our local businesses and are able to take risks at this time.”

Money and more is what regatta organizers look for from sponsors. In the past, says Tackling, “we were open to almost anything, but as times have changed it is more important for us to receive money. We also will take in-kind services but unfortunately that does not always assist with the bills that we have. It also depends greatly on what the in-kind is. Many of our sponsors are financially supporting us as well as providing in-kind services, which seems to be the best formula so far.”

Some sponsors want to have a ‘say’ in how the regatta is run, others do not. “Our title sponsor has influence on some aspects of the racing,” says Sweeney. “In exchange, we have course marks bearing their logos and great prizes to award. But on the whole, our sponsors provide us plenty of latitude on how we choose to run the event on and off the water.”

Tackling adds, “We make it very clear that we will run the event as professionally as possible and will adhere to the ISAF rules of sailing, and that the event is owned by the Sint Maarten Yacht Club. We always listen to ideas but it’s important to establish the role of the sponsor from early on.”

What do organizers owe back to sponsors? “Sponsors look for association with a great product,” says Sweeney. “They want and deserve to be highly visible to our competitors and a part of the local and international news that the event generates.”

Niki Borde, manager of Trinidad & Tobago-based Regatta Promoters who put on the Tobago Carnival Regatta February 10-14, says, “I tend to place sponsors in different aspects of the regatta, so that they ‘own’ that segment. In this way, they get total coverage in their particular segment. For example, at our regatta, Carib sponsored the beach games and bars, so they got coverage on the beach. Bmobile got the regatta village, so the village was green with their logo.”

In addition to exposure during the event, Tackling says, “More importantly we offer exposure year round through our website, press releases, poster and brochures. The event is three days but our sponsors gain months and months of exposure which is extremely important. The more you can give them the happier they are.”

What are a few good nuggets of advice on the sponsorship front? Sweeney says, “Stay focused on delivering a memorable event to the competitors and involve a potential sponsor to the fullest extent possible. Don’t forget, we’re marketing a product just like they are.” 

Contracts can be very tricky and once you put something in the agreement it is very difficult to take it out, says Tackling, “so make sure what’s written on paper is something you can live with forever.”

Borde says, “I would advise a promoter to create a very comprehensive proposal, giving a good overall view of what they want to accomplish and the value of the event to the Sponsor and the community. And, one of the many “don’ts” for me is, never use a negative word in your presentation. Also, never beg for money. If you have to, then your event is not worth the investment or you don’t know what you are doing. If you present a good proposal and you have a confident manner, more often than not they will want in. Let them ask how much. Then, hit them for all you can get.”

Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.


Heineken is likely one of the best-known sponsors of sailing events in the Caribbean, most notably of St. Maarten’s Heineken Regatta. According to local legend, a few cold Heineken beers were tossed by spectators at sailors aboard the seven boats racing in the first St. Maarten regatta and the Heineken sponsorship was born.

John Leone, director of Heineken St. Maarten/St. Martin, says, “Over the years, we became partners with the Sint Maarten Yacht Club.”

Heineken staff meets with the St. Maarten Yacht Club regatta organizers throughout the year as part of the event’s steering committee. This committee is the main body to plan and execute the event, and it involves a personal and professional contribution from all members.

Leone says, “We take on all the costs and work involved in throwing the famous Heineken Regatta parties. This is a huge undertaking considering the parties are held in multiple locations around Sint Maarten and Saint Martin. We coordinate all the bands, sound, lights, drinks, food, permits etc. It takes all year to plan and execute the operational tasks for the regatta, as it takes the Sint Maarten Yacht club all year to promote and organize the sailing race. The yacht club can rest at night, while we handle all the evening entertainment.”

“We are also able to work with other sponsors to bring added elements to the event,” Leone adds. “Because the event is as big and the island is so small, we like to say ‘it takes the whole island to throw a party this big!’ It’s true. If we did not get help from the two Island Governments and other businesses around the island we would never be able to pull off such a world-class event.”

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Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.

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