The event failed to attract media coverage, sponsors and spectators for several reasons: There were only two syndicates competing, making the event much shorter (with only two races) and less exciting; the event was preceded by extended legal battles between the syndicates; and the races overlapped with the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. As a result, sponsorships were down significantly from $200 million for the previous America's Cup in 2007 to $11 million, and the overall economic impact of the event is estimated to have been about one-tenth of the impact of the previous America's Cup.
The winning syndicate, BMW Oracle headed by Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, is estimated to have spent some $200 million on the project. While most of that money appears to have come from Ellison's own pockets, BMW was also a key stakeholder.
The idea of a car brand sponsoring sailing activities seems counterintuitive. And in the case of BMW, the yacht sponsorship activities seem especially odd in the context of BMW's dropping of its Formula One sponsorship activities. Formula One was an arguably closer fit with the brand, but it was also a much higher ticket item for BMW, estimated at above $300 million annually.
So why would BMW sponsor a U.S. America's Cup syndicate? There are a number of reasons:
So while the 33rd America's Cup may not have yielded the best ROI for BMW, involvement in yacht racing appears to be a fit for the brand, as counterintuitive as it first may seem.
What can other sponsors learn from BMW's involvement in sailing?
Let's hope that the 34th edition of the America's Cup will generate more excitement. So far, Larry Ellison has announced his willingness to work with all parties towards that goal.