A Perspective from Miami: Volvo Ocean Race Debrief

The Volvo Ocean Race stopover in Miami has been highly criticized over the past days, and perhaps rightly so. However, before issuing criticism, one must understand the amount of work that goes into organizing and promoting a successful stopover. As you’ll read, the organizers of the Volvo Ocean Race in Miami had some hefty challenges to work around, many which were completely out of their control.

In tonight’s issue of Sailing Scuttlebutt, Wendy Kamilar debriefs readers on some of the challenges that the organizing committee faced while planning the event. We have included some brief excerpts from the debrief, and the full commentary can be found here, at Sailing Scuttlebutt.

In 2002 the Volvo Ocean Race made its last stop in Miami. The 2002 Village was on a 3 acre lot behind the [American Airlines] Arena. There were 4 large tents and of course the boats. When the race left town it did so with little fanfare and several hundred thousand dollars in unpaid bills. Our goals were simple: to build a great village, run great races, give people a reason to come, tell them we’re here and pay our bills.

The challenges were large. Logistics came first. There is only one place with deep enough draft, enough room for the village and open access to the public for the boats to go – Bicentennial Park. The park has no infrastructure. No electrical power, only 1 fire hydrant for water, plenty of uneven unusable surfaces, and no docks. And the boats had to pass through a federal channel, impassable when cruise ships were in port. Permits, immigration, environmental issues, Federal, state and local authorities all coming together. We had to drive pilings to attach the temporary docks, get special permits for the temporary structures in a hurricane zone, bring in generators and water and fuel and thousands of pounds of mulch.

In case you’re not following, the organizers basically had bureaucracy working against them. That, and also a completely barren park which they managed to transform into an exciting race village.

Close to and during the stopover we marketed the event using 6 radio stations, 100 Street Pole Banners, 125 Bus Benches, 30,000 Guide books in Miami Beach Hotels, 100,000 guide books inserted in Miami Magazine, 100,000 flyers distributed by street teams in all Metro-Rail stations, major shopping areas, Marlins and Heat Playoff Games, Posters and Flyers distributed in many local marine supply stores and marinas, 12 digital directional flashing signs on major roadways, an aerial banner flying over Miami Beach, two branded downtown trolley’s and 40 large banners in Miami Airport.

The sheer amount of promotion that was done is incredible. After reading Kamilar’s comments, it is ignorant to say that promotion of the event was inadequate. There are likely major sporting events that are less heavily promoted.

The last and most important goal and biggest challenge was how to pay for it all. Differentiating ourselves from all the other ports in the race, this is not a government funded project. We are a volunteer charitable organization and had to rely solely on sponsorships, grants and donations. And we are thrilled to say we can and will pay all our bills. The biggest heroes are the civic organizations who gave us grant monies like the Miami Downtown Development Authority, Tourist Development Council, PortMiami, Florida Sports Foundation and Florida Inland Navigation District. And to the corporations who give us amazing support in-kind like Bacardi, Peronni, LaCroix Water, Marquis Residences, Condo.com and Genting Resort World. Perhaps the biggest disappointment are the companies that regularly support sports and sailing all over the US in sponsorship who would not step up. You know who they are. We contacted them all several times and they all told us NO.

Our take: Having attended the Boston stopover in 2009 (which was an electric, energizing stopover with huge crowds present), the Miami stopover was definitely not as well-attended. However, we’d blame the people and demographics of Miami. Miami is a huge city with lots of international events, undoubtedly some of which took place during the Volvo Ocean Race in-port race weekend. Miami has always struck us as a luxury motor-yacht type city as opposed to one with a central sailing culture. Based on Wendy Kamilar’s account, I can’t really fault the organizers for pulling off a stopover that had all the odds working against it. Couple the logistical issues with the weather (rain/storms all weekend), the event doesn’t look that bad.

That said, I do think the Volvo Ocean Race should look inside itself and examine the process for port selection. Clearly, something went wrong with Miami. The Volvo Ocean Race has pulled off many successful stopovers in both the United States and worldwide, so I don’t think that the system is broken. There was clearly, though, a disconnect between the expected outcome versus the actual outcome.

Photo by Taylor Michie / Racing Winds Media.