Friday, October 10, 2014

How will people choose their favorite team in Volvo Ocean Race 2014-2015?

Volvo Ocean Race (VOR) 2014-2015 sailing competition begun with an opening in-port race last weekend. The journey around the world starts on Saturday 11th, October. It is a huge media event. Volvo Ocean Race Facebook page has over 1 million followers.

It is interesting to ponder the choice of favorite team in the Volvo Ocean race, since it is a one time event. The teams do not exist before or after the competition. Next time the VOR will be organized, there will be different teams, sailors, sponsors and boats. When people choose their favorite team they also choose certain values. Chosen team is a symbol for something special. Being a fan is always part of being a part of something bigger than just a team. People want to know more about the teams, individual sailors, boats, sponsors etc. There are seven teams this year:

1.      Team SCA, Sweden (no Swedish sailors, mainly American and British).
2.     Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, Emirati (One Emirate sailor)
3.     Dongfeng Race Team, China (About half of the sailors is Chinese) 
4.     Team Brunel, Netherlands (Two sailors from Netherlands)
5.     Alvimedica, Turkey and U.S.A (Turkish money and American - Australian sailors) 
6.     Mapfire, Spain (About half of the sailors are from Spain) 
7.     Vestas, Denmark (Two Danish sailors, the rest are mainly from Australia)

Following competitions is much more fun, if one has a favorite team. Being a fan to a team, is a form of “participating” in the competition. The experience is more powerful the more one wishes success for a certain team. But, how to choose a team?

Choosing the favorite team

There are several possible reasons to choose a certain team:

Geographics. The fan identity for local team or national team is mainly given. One needs to justify, if one does not support local teams. But there is very limited number on boat and nationalities competing this time. I guess Spanish people will mainly stand behind the Spanish team (Mapfre) and Chinese people will support Dongfeng. But, it might not be so evident for other teams, who have a very international crew. For example Swedish boat, SCA, has not Swedish sailors.

Support women. Team SCA has only women. Some of them have earlier experience from the race and some have sailed in the Olympics.

Support environment. Danish company Vestas makes windmills. Their advertising the race village was classy. Wind energy is environment friendly and helps remove poverty in areas where other energy forms are costly. It is hard to disagree with these values. Windmills and sailing definitely match, as Vestas puts it “Wind means the world to us”. Vestas has a wining attitude (see t-shirt below).  

Best sailor. One might have some connections to a sailor before. These sailors represent different nationalities and values. They also have various sailing histories; some have participated in VOR earlier, some have sailed in Olympics. As the race proceeds, audience starts to notice different sailing styles: some are taking risks, some are avoiding them, some are innovative, some arrogant. An audience member might find a certain sailing style appealing, perhaps the kind of style he/she recognizes in themselves or wishes to adopt. 

Potential success. People like to be on the winning side. When the team I support wins, I feel that I have won also (or at least I can be satisfied with the way I make choices).

Under dog. There are many people who feel the appeal of the under dog. They do not want to support the team that has most money or talents. (Vandello et al. (2007)[1])

Fan products. Fan products have a very strong affect for the process of becoming a fan (Ahola (2014)[2]. It is relevant to have many fan products to engage many different audiences. People might even choose a team based solely on the fan products.

Vague indefinable sympathy. Many people are not able to reason state the reason why they support a certain team, they just do.

Risks and costs related to supporting a team

Typically, choosing to support one team might have some downsides and risks. Normally, when we choose one product we loose the opportunity to choose the other one. This is not necessarily the case here, since people can find it in their heart that it is ok to have several favorites. Other possible risks and costs:

SCA sells hygiene products, which are not the coolest products in the consumer market (possible psychological cost). SCA is also the only women’s team. Some people might find it uncomfortable that the team seem to be selected based on gender not skills or personality.

There is always a poor performance risk. This risk is mainly about social embarrassment, if the team sails poorly. We do not know much about the teams beforehand, so the risk is highly relevant.

Even though none of the teams has claimed anything about religion or politics, it may be revealed later on. Even the slightest imaginary connections might be a hindrance to some fans.

Marketing the teams for fans

When it comes to marketing the teams for fans, SCA stands out. It has bought nearly all the outdoor marketing spots in Alicante, where the race starts. SCA t-shirts are very visible in the whole town. SCA was the only team that had a fan product shop on their own. And they even had a Lego model from their boat. I am sure all this effort is worth it.  It is highly relevant what kind of products teams have, since last time 2,9 million people visited the race villages.[3]

The other teams do not have nearly as many products as SCA has. For example Vestas has a button and a t-shirt. This is pretty lame. 

Chinese team support staff had a great “ninja” show and fine outfits. Even though the show was fine, it was not much connected to sailing. Neither are the tractors Dongfeng is selling. Contrary to this Abu Dhabi’s connection to sailing and race is clear, since it is one of the race villages. I think it is rather stylish, that they have their own team. Alvimedica represent Turkish money and United States. This team seems to be very skilled at least in short races, they won the in-port race last weekend. The picture is taken when they leave the port for that race. The spirit is good.

SCA has support from the Swedish royals. Crown Princess Victoria is a godmother for the team, and Prince Carl Philip participated in the in-port race. I kind of like the idea off being in the same team with Carl Philip…

(Photos are taken by Sami Iivarinen) 

[1] Vandello, Joseph A., Nadav P. Goldschmied, and David AR Richards (2007): "The appeal of the underdog." Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 33.12 (2007): 1603-1616.

[2] Ahola, Samuli (2014): ”Etäfanin faniutuminen ja identiteetti - yksityisiä kaukosuhteita vai yhteisön karnevaalia?”, Gradu Viestinnän, median ja teatterin yksikkö, Tampereeen Yliopisto.
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