Ep.020 Athlete Story Podcast
Rethinking a sport as an offer with Brand Manager for The Danish Sailing Champions League, former athlete Nynne Ammundsen
Today’s guest is revolutionizing the appeal of sailing for a new generation!
I think it's fascinating how big of a role that marketing and messaging plays in our decisions every day, even in sports. I'm not talking about how sponsors use sports and athletes to market their products. I'm talking about how sports itself needs to use marketing to stay relevant and interesting and keep recruiting new athletes.
Former elite athlete, Nynne Ammundsen, loves working with events and seeing the impact events can have on people and the community. She realizes that a sport is an offer like any other offer, competing for people's attention.
Today Nynne is Brand Manager for the Danish Sailing Champions League where she's been working with the team to popularize a not so easily accessible sport with to find creative rethinking of the offer of sailing as a competitive sport.
In this episode, we talk about the challenges associated with assembling and marketing the sailing league. Nynne tells us about the initiatives set up by the Sejlsportsligaen (the Danish name) and special initiatives they've come up with like WOW (Women On Water). We also discuss the emerging E-Sports industry and how its being utilised within sailing.
World Champion 2014 in Duatlon and Brand Manager for the the Danish Sailing League
«In a way, my main advantage is that I do not have any previous experience in sailing at this level. So, from my point of view, it's good because I will question mark things which sailors take for granted. Sometimes you need a different message to get new people on board. If you keep repeating certain words which non-sailors do not understand, then sailing will never be as popular a sport as we hope it will be soon.»
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It's easier to grab a ball and go play somewhere than to start in the sport of sailing. Or to go sign up at a local gym to get in shape. So how do you attract people to the sport of sailing? That's a real question that sports like sailing have to deal with. Every sport offers something different as a bonus to the 'get in shape' part but it's not always clear before you are deep into the sport... Here's the intro to the newest episode on Athlete Story Podcast where brand manager for the Danish Sailing Champions League, @Sejlsportsligaen. #athlete story #sailing #championsleaguesailing #wow #womenonwater #competitivesport #sportsmarketing #sportsbranding #rethinkingsport #rebranding #womeninsport #womenandsport #sportevent #sportspodcast #newepisode #igtv
About our guest
Former elite athlete, Nynne Ammundsen, started working in events as a great way to combine her passion for and insight into the world of sports with a professional career. When she moved to Singapore for a couple of years she became a concept developer and coach within Asia’s largest Triathlon Association: MetaSport. After returning to Denmark, she began to work as a coordinator for major sporting events, such as the Copenhagen Velothon and various Powerman Championships across Scandinavia.
WOW Women on Water is an initiative to extend the sport of sailing and what it has to offer into a networking opportunity for women and a way to teach the transferable lessons from sailing to business and life.
READ the transcript of full interview by clicking here.
Anja Bolbjerg:Weather is a pretty important factor in sailing, how do you add in that factor in E environment?
Nynne Ammundsen:Well, when you're sailing the weather is always really nice, if you can say that.
Voice over:Welcome to the Athlete Story podcast. Your chance to tap into wisdom from athletes and experts in World Class sports. You are about to be taken into a chat about sports careers and related issues between an awesome guest and your listening host, the sports Insider, repurposed Olympic mobile skier and former freeride World Tour athlete, Anja Bolbjerg.
INTRO Anja:These are difficult times pretty much globally now. I feel bad for athletes who are out there, seeing their big events being canceled or their career cut short or maybe even the Olympics being canceled. It's just one of those things that's beyond our control. If this concerns you, it's okay to be upset of course and be frustrated. Try to look at what you can do instead. There may be something you can catch up on. We have to deal with it best way possible. Everybody's making sacrifices these days and that seems to be the only way to combat this common enemy.
Please, please, please, whether you're still active or you've retired from sports, take care of yourself. Don't of course let yourself get unfit, but it's really important that you don't go into overtraining mode as well because you really need your immune system. I don't mean to sound panicky or anything but please take care of yourself and feel free to reach out if you want to have a chat with me. Now let's move on with today's episode.
A sport is an offer, like any activity or product out there, it has to compete with other offers for people's time, attention and money. Sports marketing people of course know this but it's usually not top of mind for Federation's or athletes. The sports who understand this, they tend to grow and those who don't, they tend to slow. Stay tuned to hear how the sport of sailing is currently on a wave of refreshing and revisiting their offer in order to make it more accessible and to leverage the uniqueness of their sport.
This is Athlete Story, your show if you want to keep a connection to your athletic identity and to the world of sports and to other athletes while pursuing your new mission in life after sports. I'm your host, Anja Bolbjerg, a former world top 10 Skier in mobiles and freeride skiing now way into life after sports. I'd like to invite you to join other former athletes and me here on Athlete Story for resources to help you put your former sports career to work for you in life after sports.
I think it's fascinating how big of a role that marketing and messaging plays in our decisions every day, even in sports. I'm not talking about how sponsors use sports and athletes to market their products. I'm talking about how sports itself needs to use marketing to stay relevant and interesting and keep recruiting new athletes. Now, for you having been part of these tours and tournaments and competitions, I'm sure you've seen things that could be done differently. Think a little bit out of that established box. In skiing we had a big movement around the turn of the millennium, 20 years ago.
Skiing was losing popularity and a couple of handfuls of athletes, young athletes in skiing took matters in their own hands and created this new school movement, it was called. I think we have to do an episode on that one day but today, it's about the sport of sailing and how they're doing the home makeover both in the offer and in the marketing to make it easier to get out in the water, and to spin on the unique benefits that sailing has to offer.
I've invited Nynne Ammundsen from the new Sailing Champions League to come tell us the story about how they're building a more commercial tour and refreshing the offer of sailing as a competitive sport. Let's welcome Nynne Ammundsen. Before we dive in, I just want to tease the successful after-sports summit that will help you kick off this next decade from home or wherever you choose to tune in from. You see, this is an online conference where I'm bringing on super relevant experts to help you create a life after sports on your terms.
We cover everything from defining what that even means to you, to diving into your identity beyond sports, to practical ways to position yourself as well as career inspiration. That's whether you want to land your dream job or create your own business. Head on over to athletesstory.com/successful after sports to sign up for more information and get the special offer for the Athlete's Story podcast listeners.
Anja: Hi, Nynne. Welcome to the Athlete's Story podcast.
Nynne Ammundsen:Thank you very much.
Anja:I really wanted to invite you on to tell us about what you're doing in the sport of sailing, because it's quite I think revolutionary, is a good word for that. You broke out from the official sailing Federation or if I understand it correctly, and did your own tour as an association called--
Nynne:The Danish sailing league?
Nynne:We are a breakout as if you can say that. Actually, we started together with the Federation, and the Federation is still a big part of our league, if you can say so. They support us economic with some fundings yearly and also we use them a lot due to contact to each of the clubs and the whole community though. It's true that we figured out at some point that it was better actually to start on our own regarding sponsors and the whole management about the tour, or the league, if you can say so. Usually, we call it the Danish sailing league.
Anja:You commercialized the whole concept of competitive sailing a little bit, right?
Nynne:That's true. It actually started in Germany, we here in Denmark figured out that it was quite a good idea. The concept was really nice. The sailing league actually started as a concept in Germany and we just copy-pasted as good as we could. In Denmark that time it was the project manager called Peter Walton, who is still the project manager, who started it together with the German. First it was German who had the German sailing league, the Bundesliga and then Denmark came on the year after.
Then actually now it's 23 countries who's doing the league and most of them is commercialized. It makes really good sense because we own the boats and we raise a lot all over the country. The setup is really good for our own setup, actually.
Anja:Who participates in this?
Nynne:The participation are the clubs in Denmark. To participate you need to be a member of the Danish Federation, the sailing Federation. It's actually all the clubs in Denmark who can participate. We have a first division and we have a second division. If you are new club joining the league, you need to start in second division and then you need to sail as good as you can to get into the First Division. It's 18 clubs in each of the divisions. The first division is the 18 best clubs, the teams in Denmark and it's of course the same in the second league.
Anja:Why is it better, in your words to do it like this than the way it's always been done?
Nynne:I think one of the main reason is it's a bit complicated for the Federation's only to have this really focused concept as a league sailing. The Federation needs to take care of sailors who is just beginning, five years old sailors. They need to take care of a lot of all the volunteers work and for example, Boyens if you are just sailing on tour, if you are just cruising, and they need to take care of so many different things, and that's a really big task for the Federation.
For that reason, this league sailing does not really fit into the Federation's system, actually, I would say. We are really close, but sometimes it just makes better sense to have when it's such a small thing, if you can say that, for the whole Federation to make it as a more commercialized size, make it as a more commercialized concept. Still with input, and a lot of, I would say development with a federation. We just have so many ideas, which the Federation for some reason cannot be in connection with, or maybe responsible for because it's not really in their mission.
It's in our mission to be commercialized. As a federation, you are not supposed to be 100% commercialized, basically not in Denmark, I would say.
Anja:If you are in some other sport, and you say, "Well, I think I can make a better tour than what we have already in my sport." What does it take to start a whole tour like that? Where do you even begin?
Nynne:I think I would really make sure that I had my staff ready. It really takes the right staff to make a tour. We see it in different sports, in different organizations, you need to have a man who's willing to work his ass out. If you don't have that certain person, it's really difficult. We see it in the different countries as well. We have a certain person in France who's just willing to almost die for his league. It's the same in Germany and we see it in Sweden and we see it in different other concepts within the sailing league, within the woman on water and our E sailing concept too.
You need that certain person who is willing to break a leg or how would you say it? To succeed.
Anja:Is it a privately-owned? Could you say, "Now we've built this brand, the league here, now let's put it for sale and see who wants to buy it?" Can you do that or is it still a Federation's brand?
Nynne:I think it's different to each country, because each country has different obligations to the Federation. From our point of view, I think we would definitely need to speak to the Federation first. I think from our business perspective, it would be a better idea I think to have a sponsor on board saying, "This is your brand, you are part of the league now. You can commercialize, you can use our branding, you can use the sailors, the clubs, the whole concept into your own business strategy." As we see with Carlsberg recently. They actually made a whole 2020 strategy about sailing. SAIL'22 it was called and it was all about what you learn from sailing.
How you react, the team spirit, how you need to be able to take a decision every second, almost when you're on the water and even though you think you have a goal in front of you, the finish line, then you need to change strategy almost all the time to reach your finish line. That part of how would you say sailing as a concept is from our point of view, a better way to develop sailing than just sailors. We really appreciate our partners than just selling the concept.
Anja:How do they use it? Do they use it for their own staff? Or is it more like to be associated with a good sailing education and the lessons that lie in there?
Nynne:Definitely, the first is to mention strategy that the CEO, Cees 't Hart, he published it a few months ago and now they are working hard on it as I figure out in Carlsberg these days. It's a strategy for 2020 so it's got some years to run on still.
Anja:Then I know that you've made a collateral product, which is women on water, WOW, can you tell us more about that?
Nynne:The story is quite nice actually. We had a Danish team who was sailing the finals of the sailing Champions League, all the best teams all over the world, sailing in this sailing league concept. It could be Germany, it could be France, Sweden, Norway, Russia, the best teams from each country get into the final and we had the Danish team. We actually had a few but one team was only female sailors and they were shining. We sailed the final in Porto Cervo which is really, really nice area, really good waves, wind, boats, everything is just really nice and the Danish team just blowed away everyone, even the hosting club too.
We figured out when we were down there, there was a shame that they couldn't really have anyone to sail against. It was all female sailors on that boat and that was it. There was maybe one or two girls on the other boats, but otherwise it was actually just men. The Danish team from the Royal Danish Yacht Club, KDY, said, "We want some female sailors to compete too otherwise we will never get better [crosstalk] so how can we do that." We set with the two of the Danish sailors Henriette Koch former Olympic sailor and Josefine Boel who's a metro sailor and we just figured out, "We need to do this, we need to get some women on water."
That's actually where it started. We asked out saying, "What can we do?" They said, "We just need to be on our own. It's more safe." We figured out that actually is just to set up a framework where the female sailors just go sailing on their own. If there's a man on board, then the man will more or less take over and then we are back to scratch. We actually set up some events and some concepts and networks meeting where it's only for female sailors and slowly but surely, they are coming out saying, "Oh, I would like to sail too but down where I live, we're not that many female sailors and every time we go out, it's almost every time the men who is taking over and then we're back to square."
We were like, "Yes, exactly, we know that story." We've actually just said to the men, "Just give us one day where we can sail in the boats." For example, could be a Thursday, so Thursday in a certain club, it's only female sailors. Then slowly but surely we're growing. We raised only four female sailors and we were a little bit unsure if the timing was right. Did we have enough female sailors who was actually willing to compete against each other in Denmark? Because the popularity of female sailors is a bit now and then unsure to define, because we don't really know there's a lot of female sailors who used to sail and then they had kids and they came back and it was a bit unsure for us.
Actually the race was sold out in a few days and we had a waiting list. We started out really well with the first event in Sunday in Copenhagen, and we're doing it actually third time now, third year. We had to increase the number of participants, we had to increase the number of teams. We had teams from all over the world actually Portugal, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Finland. It's a huge success and we actually sold as we spoke about before, we sold the concept to different countries now. WOW is established in Hungaria, Sweden, Portugal, Switzerland is doing it slowly but surely, other sailing federations is figuring out that this is a really good way to get women on board.
Anja:It's unique in sailing that way. You have to do this in order for women to actually get to lead a boat and do their thing and not just follow orders.
Nynne:Yes. Well, in the Olympic sailing, the females are really, really good, but due to certain different things, then kids come in and work take some times and then it can be difficult for the female sailors to get back on track. For this project, the sailing league concept is that you just show up, you sail, and you leave. You don't have to prepare your boat, you don't have to figure out what to do with the sails during the winter and everything. It's a little bit more expensive, though, but the league takes care of everything. We call it like you have full fitness, you just go train and go home and that's what it's all about. We make it really, really easy for the sailors [crosstalk].
Anja:All you need really is a couple of teammates and then you can just show up, the boat will be there.
Nynne:We've tried to make it really, really easy to go on the water just for a few hours actually. Also, that is just a thing because it can be really, really windy and cold and so on. Just a few hours is actually enough. You don't have to be on the water training super hard for seven hours. That can kill all kind of enthusiasm.
Anja:Then I think you do more events around the sailing as well to help women network better and connect with each other.
Nynne:Yes, but that's a way of commercializing too. We hope that together with WOW network, which we established could get just attached to some major companies who actually thought like Carlsberg, "Oh, this sailing concept is quite nice and we would like to cooperate with a company like this." We've got some few companies on board, we've not really managed to get a huge sponsor yet, which will be really nice because as a commercial part, you have to work for your own salary almost every day.
Anja:If there's anybody out there listening thinking, "This is interesting." What do you offer sponsors?
Nynne:We offer them a huge range of different options. It depends on which company it is. Of course, our current sponsor, we just signed with a new partner, they are with us every day, because without our cause, we couldn't do the league. They are a major part of our life actually every day. We offer them a lot of hospitalities and we offer them visibility on our web page and our social media. We do all the press releases for them for every race, actually, we do some press releases and of course, they have their own boat if they fancy so they can go and practice to figure out and to show the employees what it is sailing actually can do.
Because even though you're not a proper sailor, probably you never sailed before, you can actually go and do a really good job on the boats. Just that team spirit is worth a lot of money for a lot of companies. That's what we're trying to do when we have our small little pitch out there.
Anja:You said you sold it to all these countries, so do you help them get started? Is like a franchise they get all these things and gadgets to set it up and have to follow up? How is the business model there?
Nynne:It's a kind of a franchise. They get the logo, they get the first how to do, what to set out, what is it like we call it the Danish case, what do you do to get started? Because it's actually when you just have the idea and how would you say it if you're motivated to start, then it's actually just to go-- It makes really good sense when you're running. We actually help them get it going, start the first press release, the logo, the invitation for the first event, how would you organize it? What does it look like when you're sailing? How would you cooperate? How would you coordinate and all that kind of stuff.
It's actually down to logistics and the planning because sailing in Portugal, for example, they are way ahead of us in some ways, and in that way we help each other. Because we figured out how the logo is, the branding, how we would like the events to be, we are the mother of the brand. We like to franchise it and get them on board, but it is really different sailing while in Cascais, for example, in Portugal is a lot different to sailing while in Copenhagen and Denmark and compared to Hungaria.
Anja:It's not like it's the same experience wherever you go in the world, that kind of thing.
Nynne:No. One size does not fit all, in this case. I think it's really good because otherwise we might have some nations who would fail actually, so we better customize it a bit.
Anja:Can you participate like say, in a Danish event then say, "I want to go to Portugal and participate there." Can you still come as a foreigner and participate there?
Nynne:Yes, you can, but then we will set you up with a team so you'll not be like on your own. We have our Facebook page where we connect a Woman on Water on Facebook, connect sailors who would like to go on a sailing event or just go sailing somewhere in Denmark or outside Denmark, we can help too.
Anja:That's Women on Water Facebook?
Nynne:On Facebook, yes.
that an open group that you can apply to join?
Nynne:Yes, it is. Then you can just send us a text message and we will forward it to one of our ambassadors around the country.
Anja:Nice, [chuckles] that's a cool concept.
Anja:You've been playing around with, I don’t know, how far you’re with it, but E-sailing and this whole esports, I’m a little behind. It is totally new to me. What's the point with esports and E-sailing?
Nynne:It's exploding, as you know, in all over the world and in different kind of sports too. Our mother, the Danish Sailing Federation has been invited to join the esports, and because we think it's really interesting part for club development which is what the league does too, we thought that it might be a way to go. We said, “Yes, take us. We would like to be part of the team who's developing.”
We actually cooperate with one of the best e-sailors in Denmark. He is the best these days, Lukas Mohr. Then this Danish Sailing League, our project called Youngsters, which is sailing for young people from 13 to 22, and then the Danish Sailing Federation. We had made this application in autumn 2019 for the Denmark Sports Federation. Then we got a really good funding to start up this project. These days, we are just about to publish the whole setup with ambassadors, flyers, stickers, everything, events. The Danish Championship is just around the corner, the first one ever in e-sailing. It's really, really big these days.
Anja:I can say, like, skiing was my sport, weather is a pretty important factor in sailing. How do you add in that factor in e-environment? [chuckles]
Nynne:Well, in e-sailing, the weather's always really nice. As for example, in cycling, you cycle and then you will be super sweaty and it will be hard and you will do your best on the bike, but e-sailing is different. You're more doing the tactics. You're playing on your iPad or on the computer. It's more on the focus on the rules and to be tactical on the cause and the buoyancy at different kind of boats. We actually practice different boats type. For you skiing, it will may be going alpine and then also doing-- I'm not so much into skiing, but a different kind of skiing too. We compete in different boats in e-sailing. It will make you to a better sailor when you go on the water, when the weather's better. [chuckles]
Anja:There is that purpose with it that you do want to take people from E and out on the water.
Nynne:Yes, for sure. It's a part of the development plan for the coming years. We want to develop sailing and we want to be more popular. We think that e-sailing is a part or an area where we can catch some people who is into e-sports and actually get them into the federations and get them down to the clubs, and then go sailing, hopefully, when the weather's really nice. The e-sailing concept is for non-sailors too. My background is not from sailing, but I am competing in the e-sailing too. I wouldn't say a top 10, but I do manage to get around the buoyancy and finish at a certain point.
That's a really good way to practice because also for sailing, as for skiing and for a lot of other sports, damaging your gear is really, really expensive. Pushing it really to the limit, see how far you can go, go up when go down when you can actually do a lot of practice without any damage, which is really, really nice for the sailors and for the club, of course.
Anja:Let's get that story before we wrap it up here. Because you were an athlete as well and competed in triathlon, how did you transition from being an athlete and over into working in sailing and events like this?
Nynne:I did some pro-racing tour, road racing, and triathlon when I used to live in Singapore. It was actually all my experience as an athlete, doing the check in, putting my bag on the rungs, where is the starting area, where's my nutrition, all that stuff that I took with me as a project manager for first duathlon and then for this sailing, but I think my force for the sailing league is that I do not have any kind of experience with sailing. I did a few things many, many years ago if you choose, but it wasn't at this level at all.
From my point of view, I think the good thing from my background is that I have focused on a lot of things, nutrition too, and all that, but in our league setup, it is that I question mark some things because the sailors just take it now and then for granted. Maybe it's not the best way to organize it, maybe it's not the best way to do it, now and then you need a different saying to get other people onboard interested because if you just keep repeating different words, certain words that I as a non-sailor do not understand, then sailing will never be as a public sport as we hope it will be soon.
Anja:I think that's a great lesson to end it with it because the audience of this show are former athletes mostly, and we talk a lot about how to transition out of the sports and finding that new mission after sports. I think it's beautiful to see how you are repurposing the skills that you have from your sports, but also leveraging that over into even the things that you don't know anything about being an advantage. Do you know what I mean?
Nynne:Yes. [chuckles] You need to see it that way to succeed now and then, but I really actually think that it's a good way that people when they hire, for example, in the ski business, that a former ski athlete is a really good way to start, but not being afraid of taking other competences and backgrounds and educations into. It's a strain for a lot of companies, I would say. That's from my point of view and from my background, we came with a different funding and a different economy, and sponsors wasn't a big issue as it is here in sailing. That kind of experience is really interesting too.
Anja:Well, thank you so much for taking the time to share this with us. I think it's super exciting what you guys are doing. Good luck with the launch of your E--
Anja:To all the listeners out there, if you feel hooked on starting some kind of event, or maybe even starting at Women on Water where you're at, well, you know where to go. We have a Women on Water group on Facebook. You're on Instagram as well, right?
Nynne:Yes, and we have that with the E-sailing Denmark too. We have that with the Sejlsportsligaen, the Danish Sailing League. We are on Facebook, Instagram, and even on YouTube and LinkedIn. Please join us.
Anja:Okay. [chuckles] Thank you very much and consider yourself part of the Athletes StoryCommunity, Nynne.
Nynne:Thank you. It was a pleasure.
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