Volvo Ocean Race 2009: Gathering pace

Volvo Ocean Race sails ahead in the multimedia arena.
Volvo Ocean Race 2009

Partnering with Ericsson, Volvo Ocean Race brings an around-the-clock experience to its fans.

The Volvo Ocean Race is the longest race in the world, covering 37 000 nautical miles and taking over nine months to complete. The teams cross some of the most treacherous seas on earth in their bid to be first across the finish line. Onboard communication is becoming more and more advanced and this is reflected in the sophistication of the reporting tools being used to relay information back to fans all over the world.

The race has always represented life at the extreme and fans want to keep in touch with the teams and witness their challenges and triumphs along with them. This year for the first time Volvo Ocean Race has fully embraced the concept of anytime, anywhere communication so viewers can follow the race on multiple channels wherever and whenever they want.

Ericsson has participated directly in the race since 2005. As long-term partners the pair have developed a strong relationship and as such Ericsson was the perfect partner to help Volvo Ocean Race deliver the next level of service. The foundation for success in the 2008–09 race was based on the following premise: Ericsson's role was to make sure no Volvo Ocean Race fan ever had to leave the race; Volvo Ocean Race’s role was to make sure nobody ever wanted to.

At the heart of the collaboration was the development of the mobile portal which runs alongside the Volvo Ocean Race website and online TV, delivering information simultaneously across multiple channels.

Ericsson spent six months working closely with Volvo Ocean Race on the integration of the existing content management system and as a result Volvo Ocean Race did not need to implement any separate teams or ways of working in order to introduce the mobile channel. Information is received and edited in the normal way and when it is published to the web it is automatically transcoded for different devices and at the same time rolled out on the mobile channel.

Andrew Ferguson, Head of Technology and New Media, Volvo Ocean Race explains how this translates into a seamless service for the audience: "This year we have been able to receive material from the boats at 10:30, do a complete review, publish it on the news feed by 11:00 and be online everywhere by 11:05."

The initial scope of the agreement was for Ericsson to deliver the mobile portal and IPTV service, but the solution was built to be scalable and as the race began, new features emerged. For example, it became clear that 40 percent of users were accessing the mobile channel via an iPhone so the decision was made to specialize the experience for that device. Along the way, Google also contacted Volvo Ocean Race and an agreement was reached to make a feed and add race content to Google Earth. In the end Ericsson delivered the Volvo Ocean Race mobile site, associated team sites, a Facebook application, a J2ME mobile client, multiview TV and dedicated iPhone and Google map mashups.

The race is an around-the-clock event and this year Volvo Ocean Race has completely tuned into this feeling with its communications, even going as far as to insist on the presence of a media-specific crew member on each boat. This member of the team is not allowed to sail the boat so even in a tough situation, there is always someone dedicated to recording events.

The yacht positions are given every three hours and video and audio feeds give the audience an almost real-time experience so they can really get close to their favorite teams and witness the highs and lows. Geoff Hollingworth, Innovation Director, Ericsson describes the mindset: "Our success starts and ends with the enjoyment of the audience of the Volvo Ocean Race. I think we deliver a great experience."

The race sites have attracted an unprecedented level of visitors this year and at the halfway mark, traffic was equal to that of the whole of the last race. The competition’s seven In-Port Races and the simultaneous broadcast of these events on the web and mobile have proven to be particularly popular with people choosing to watch live at their own convenience.

Interactive sailing races on the web have also proven to be a huge success with 210 000 people racing their own offshore virtual races. Many of these people are non-sailors and would not traditionally tune into the race but the new technology is drawing in a whole new audience. Peter Rusch, Content Manager, Volvo Ocean Race elaborates: "The mobile portal has been one of the most successful things we’ve done in the multimedia side in this race. Compared to the last race, registrations are up nearly 200 percent."

Ericsson's established position within the race meant that it was really able to understand the mentality and the requirements of this unique project. Knut Frostad, CEO, Volvo Ocean Race confirms: "Ericsson has understood exactly what we need. It is essential for us to have a partner who is world-class when it comes to delivery, quality and reliability and that’s what Ericsson has proven to be."

For Ericsson, the project provides an excellent proof point for successful multi-screen delivery on a global stage and has opened the doors for many exciting new opportunities. During the project implementation Ericsson expanded its involvement by providing similar solutions for some of Volvo Ocean Race's main partners, adding consistency to the whole brand delivery.

PUMA Ocean Racing approached Ericsson to deliver a similar platform to the one provided to Volvo Ocean Race, adapting it to their specific needs. Daniel Miles, Global Head of Marketing for Sailing, PUMA explains the objectives behind the collaboration: "The aim was to both expand the reach to a broader group of consumers and to ensure that our media content and messaging can be easily accessed by our existing audience. The success of the Volvo Ocean Race applications proved that our target audience was already there and the development of the mobile portal was a great way for us to tap into that."

Similarly a portal was created for TV4 in Sweden, who have a sponsorship deal with Volvo Ocean Race. Again, TV4 took the opportunity to channel interest in the race and align their marketing with like-minded partners. Andrea Winkler, Project Manager, TV4 Expressen Mobilab comments: "Given our existing media deal with Volvo Ocean Race in the Nordics, it made complete sense to extend that presence into the mobile channel. Because of the way Ericsson has worked with Volvo Ocean Race it was possible for them to create a TV4 branded version of the mobile portal that we could then use to cross-promote our TV shows and our own mobile race content."

The Volvo Ocean Race has finished for another year but the race to provide superior multimedia experiences goes on. In three years at the next Volvo Ocean Race, communication will have taken another leap forward and viewers will no doubt be even closer to the race experience. In the meantime Ericsson will continue to drive innovation in communications and provide the platforms for tomorrow’s must-have services.


Customer: Volvo Ocean Race

Customer Objective

  • Meet the growing expectations of fans
  • Provide a near real-time experience
  • Promote the race

Ericsson Solution

  • IPTV, Tandberg
  • Mobile TV, ODP
  • MSDP
  • Systems Integration
  • End user experience, usability
  • IPX
  • Hosting, Operations

Customer Benefits

  • A cross-channel multimedia experience
  • Widespread visibility of the race
  • Raised interest and buy-in to the race

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Customer profile

Volvo Ocean Race's position in the market

Established in 1973 as the Whitbread Round the World Race, the Volvo Ocean Race is the world's premier global yachting race and the most challenging sporting event in the world.

Over recent years communications technology has transformed the way that the race is tracked as well as the way that the boats stay in contact with each other and their onshore teams. Increasingly, the fans are being given a window onto the race on a day-to-day level and multimedia is playing a vital part in this.