|Mark Turner- Owner & Executive Chairman, OC Thirdpole|
|Profile of the week|
Monday, 20 February 2012 13:20
Mark Turner is the Owner and Executive Chairman of OC ThirdPole.
Having spent six years in the Royal Navy, Mark started his first company, Winning Winches in 1990. After three years, he moved on to Spinlock Ltd, where he served as Marketing Director for six years (1992-1998). Prior to his departure, Mark founded Offshore Challenges. Mark would leave the organisation to focus solely on OC Group business, which would merge with ThirdPole in 2010 to become OC Thirdpole, a global sports marketing company that organises various events including the Extreme Sailing Series, the Artemis Offshore Academy, the Haute Route and the Geneva Marathon.
Mark studied BSc Physics/Maths at Exeter University. Born in the Isle of Wight, he currently shares his time between France and Switzerland, with his wife and child.
How valuable has your experience as a sailing competitor proven in event and athlete management?
I think it’s very important to remember the perspective of the team or the athlete to have a very different view of things. To be able to think like a team or like a skipper clearly helps when managing all the different stakeholders. For example, the Extreme Sailing Series has so many stakeholders, the biggest challenge is just trying to manage all of those. The teams are obviously a very important one of those and usually a fairly vocal one. They may not always agree, but they know that I know what I’m talking about, that I know what it means to be on a boat and that I’m not just someone who’s good at sports business. It helps to have that credibility. There’s always a balance for a lot of sport businesses and we’re no different to anyone else. You want to bring in expertise from other areas, sports and disciplines, but you need to balance that with real internal knowledge of the specific sport you’re working on as well.
The races OC Thirdpole has put together are exciting, but also gruelling for the participants. What was the thinking behind these events?
Ultimately, we are focused on outdoor sports, but within that you’ve got two quite different types of sport. The top end of professional sailing, where we are with the ESS, is not mass participation and involves a small number of high-level teams. On the other end, we’ve got a marathon, which is the ultimate mass-participation event. They’re quite different business models in terms of entry fees being more important in one, sponsorship being more important in the other. It’s a good thing overall. Because we’re in different sports and different countries, we have a whole load of different cycles. We’re not all linked to one cycle or one geographical area. While that makes it challenging for a small business to work like that, it also means we’re not wholly dependent on the external factors of one particular sport. It’s a good defensive mechanism for a business our size. We don’t have the ability to absorb shocks in quite the same way as perhaps an IMG would.
Do you find one sport more challenging to market than another?
Certainly sailing remains viewed as a niche sport in general so that’s the most challenging. When you try to explain it to someone who’s completely new to it, it can be pretty confusing. It’s difficult trying to sell something that doesn’t necessarily have the structure that sponsors are accustomed to in other sports. On the mass participation side, we’re just seeing continued growth in the amount of activity and competition that people want to go partake in, so while some events are on the slide, most outdoor events continue to grow.
What does sailing need to do as a sport to appeal to more people and become more mainstream?
I suppose there’s a part of sailing that neither wants, nor should try, to become mainstream. I don’t think that all sailing should be entertaining or should be trying to entertain people, but there’s a commercially funded part of professional sailing that, if it wants to exist, must be entertaining to a group of people. The ESS is a product, which is funded commercially so we need brands and venues to get value from it, and it needs to be a top end sporting event or we won’t have players wanting to be there, wanting to win.
At the end of the day, we’ve got to make it entertaining and what we tried to do is make a product that can go into the mainstream. Most of the surveys show that 95% of people at an event, whether there on the VIP side or on the public side, usually don’t follow sailing and it works. Some people may stay the whole afternoon, watch more than one race and some may obviously get to go sailing. It shows that it can be entertaining, it does engage people and it has been very rewarding to see that happening. At the same time, the level sporting-wise is phenomenally high. It’s a different kind of sailing and it’s a different format, but it hasn’t made it any easier to win. The desire to win is as strong as ever and that’s very important.