For HCL Technologies, a partnership with the Volvo Ocean Race isn’t just another sports sponsorship. It’s a way for the IT services provider to showcase the brand’s capabilities and build customer relationships.
“There is such a great synergy between this sporting event and our core values,” says Arthur Filip, executive vice president of sales transformation and marketing for HCL, which has been the IT provider for the race since 2016. “We’re on a journey with them. It’s more than a story of survival, it’s a story of achieving and hitting a pinnacle [of achievement].”
The Volvo Ocean Race is a grueling effort, running for nine months, making 12 stops and crossing four oceans. The 45th edition of the race began on Oct. 14, 2017 in Alicante, Spain and ended June 30, 2018 in The Hague in the Netherlands.
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When the race made a stop in Newport, RI this spring, HCL hosted over 40 partner companies. CIOs from the HCL advisory board—comprising some of the company’s largest customers—joined HCL in Rhode Island for a weekend of events, comprising both business meetings and social events, including, of course, viewing the race itself.
More customers who are VIPs to HCL—including directors, vice presidents and c-level executives—also attended events in and around the Race Village, many bringing along their families to join in the excitement.
“It was an opportunity for everyone to come together in a non-threatening environment and discuss issues everyone is facing around strategy and digital transformation,” he says.
Customers were immersed in the race—with experiences such as a tour of the port—and also had a chance to take a behind the scenes tour of the Race Village and see how HCL helped power the infrastructure of the communications and broadcast hub for the race.
“It was eye opening for many people to see the complexity and scale of the event, and see how HCL is embedded into the fabric of making it happen,” he says, noting some attendees also got to out on a catamaran or tour a boat, to experience how the sailors work and live during the nine-month race. “It was a very successful day, and there were a lot of happy customer families, which was cool.”
Newport was the ninth of 12 ports for the race, which is promoted all along the way via social and digital platforms. “There are a lot of people engaged with the campaigns,” said Filip. “Some are very into the sailing community and some are just involved in the Volvo Ocean Race Itself.”
HCL actively promotes the race through its social and digital channels, to supplement the in-person experiences that happen at the race stops. The customers who visit the races to engage with HCL are there because of their personal relationships with account managers and partners.
“Each port is different because of the language and the culture,” says Filip, noting that thousands of people descend upon Cardiff when the race stops there, because of the race’s European popularity, while Newport is a little more low key. “But the cool thing is that the race is the race—the activities are similar.”
While the current race is done, and the next race won’t start until 2021 (with Atlant taking over ownership from Volvo, which will continue as a race sponsor), the opportunities for promotion don’t end when the boats come into dock.
“They race every three years and then wrap up and prepare for the next race,” says Filip. “They acquire tremendous amounts of data and video—there is so much leftover content in their archives, so want to keep the interaction with fans going and keep them engaged.”
On land, HCL also leverages other sports sponsorships, such as a long-running partnership with Manchester United as the club’s digital transformation partner. HCL recently launched a new Manchester United Official app, offering fans exclusive content, links to buy tickets and merchandise and other opportunities to engage with the club.