In the latest of a series of interviews with sporting and business leaders we talk to the man at the helm of Irish Sailing. Harry Hermon took time out from the world governing body of the sport’s annual conference in Dun Laoghaire to join us in looking in depth at the growth of the sport in Ireland. Welcome to Making Sport work for Business.
When he was a young boy Harry Hermon’s parents were living in Ireland but were made redundant and travelled to Scotland to pursue a dream of setting up a sailing school. It became a success, their son followed their lead but when an opportunity arose to come back to Ireland, it suited his new family and so began a 13 year association with the management of sailing in this country.
Hermon progressed through the ranks and now stands as Chief Executive of the Irish Sailing Association. He has presided over what has been a pivotal year for the sport.
“2012 has been in many ways a breakthrough year for the sport.”
“Much of the groundwork undertaken over the past decade gave rise to a perfect storm of events and talent that have raised the profile and the reach of the sport to a level that now gives us a very strong platform for the future.”
“We hosted so many major events during the year, from the Volvo Ocean Race finale in Galway to the World Youth Championships on Dublin Bay and of course it was an Olympic Year and we had our strongest performance for many years.”
“The importance of the big events was in our ability to integrate them with local communities in a festival atmosphere. Galway was great for this and the hosting of a stage of the new Mod70 European Tour brought as many as 100,000 people onto the pier and around the streets of Dun Laoghaire in August.”
“This blend of the technical side of sailing with mass appeal festivals gives us a greater commercial story to present to partners, and raises our profile way beyond previous conceptions of the sport.”
“The performance of our Olympic and Paralympic sailors was really helped by the involvement of Providence Resources as a first time sponsor.”
“Their own marketing and activation plans assisted us in bringing the sport into new areas. An event for business media was a great success and changed the nature of how sailing is viewed in a commercial context.”
“It also allowed us to raise the bar in terms of promoting our wonderful young sailors who performed so well through the year.”
“Annalise Murphy had the nation’s attention during those great days at the end of July when she led the Olympic fleet for so long and just missed out on our first medal. She stood close to Katie Taylor as an icon of our young sports stars’ achievements in London and has been a tremendous ambassador for the sport since.”
Murphy was Guest of Honour at the Camogie All Star awards in Dublin last weekend, showing her appeal to young women in sport in a broader context.
“Annalise, together with stars like Ryan Seaton and Matt McGovern have committed to the next Olympic cycle and are already on the road to Rio. We now have three and a half years to build their profile and their appeal to the public and to commercial partners.”
The performance strand of the sport is set for another strong year in 2013.
“We are hosting the Mirror, J24 and Disabled Sailing World Championships during the year as well as the European Laser Championships where Annalise will be competing on her home territory. BMW are already on board as sponsors of the J24 in Howth but there are opportunities to broaden our commercial relationships with new partners across all the events.”
“This can be of benefit to local sponsors who value the community reach we have developed as well as for companies looking to international markets.”
“The sailing world enjoys coming to Ireland, as we are hearing all the time at the ISAF Conference.”
“We deliver on and off the water and that has great appeal. Another event we are hosting for the first time in 2013 is a cruise from Dun Laoghaire to Dingle, as part of the Gathering, and we are using this to develop online structures that will make it easy for sailors to know the where, what and when of sailing around our coastal ports.”
“The most important element of our commercial relationships is how we can work with partners on their activation and build a legacy from each event that helps to grow the sport.”
That growth will also be accelerated by Sailing securing the biggest single grant award from the recent Sports Capital Fund, a sum of €470,000.
“This is to build a touring fleet of boats, rising through the categories of skill and involvement, that allows young people come to the sport at the same cost of entry as they would have in GAA, soccer, or any other sport.
“We have regional development teams that bring the fleet around our 70 clubs as the demand is generated from schools and within local communities.”
“20,000 young people are coming through certified courses each year and staying with the sport. In addition we are reaching out to tens of thousands more through multi activity camps ‘on the water’ around the coastal and inland waterways that are such an attribute in Ireland.”
“We have a sport that enables 18 year olds to race alongside their grandparents and few can offer such a crossover appeal.”
Sailing is riding the crest of a wave at the moment and momentum being a powerful driver, the 2014 Women’s Match Racing World Championships have already been secured for Cork.
The blend of international competition, homegrown talent, youth participation and community involvement is a heady mix that should be of appeal to sponsors looking to make a serious mark in a sport that is heading at speed in the right direction.