Enthusiasm and participation at the Volvo Ocean Race stopover in Newport, R.I., exceeded expectations, leading organizers to give the city an exclusive two-month negotiating window to secure the North American stopover in the next race, slated for 2017-2018.
Spectators and guests at the race frequently commented during the stopover on what a good job Newport and Sail Newport had done in rallying excitement for the event.
“I think the city of Newport and the state of Rhode Island owe Sail Newport a huge vote of thanks. I don’t know what the economic impact was, but it had to be huge,” said Sabre and Back Cove Yachts sales and marketing vice president Bentley Collins, who joined the festivities as a guest of Volvo Penta. Trade Only Today was also invited to attend as a guest of Volvo Penta. “I am a big fan of Newport repeating as the U.S. stopover.”
Volvo branding could be seen throughout the downtown area. There were small diggers placed at intersections, and large containers (used to ship the temporary Race Village structures) were disguised by signage with Ocean Race branding and Volvo’s logo.
The final visitor count of about 125,000 exceeded expectations for the 12-day celebration.
Organizers from Sail Newport, Rhode Island's Public Sailing Center, the State of Rhode Island, the state Department of Environmental Management, Discover Newport and the city of Newport had hoped to draw 60,000 to 80,000 people.
"We're just blown away by the final visitor number," Brad Read, the executive director of Sail Newport, said in a statement. "We had 14,000 people each day on the first weekend and a high of 20,000 on Saturday this weekend. We expect to bring the race back, but building on that excitement and enthusiasm will secure it."
Race CEO Knut Frostad announced on Saturday that because of the tremendous turnout, Newport was awarded an exclusive two-month negotiating window to secure the North American stopover in the next edition of the global race, slated for 2017-18.
Frostad said the city received the most visitors since the race started visiting North America in 1989-90, and he noted the enthusiasm of local residents.
"I've been to an American stopover seven times now and can't recall anything as good as this," Frostad said of Newport. "It's a fantastic achievement, and it's our ambition to return to Newport. I'm confident we'll see 100,000 visitors before the end of the stopover, which would be quadruple the North American stopover in the previous race."
A total of 100,000 visitors would rank Newport ahead of Abu Dhabi and on an equal footing with Cape Town, South Africa, even though Newport's population is a fraction of those ports. The city’s traffic still flowed smoothly as many guests took a water taxi to Fort Adams State Park, where the race village was located.
"This is tremendous news," Read said. "It's testament to the hard work of many individuals, the commitment of the state and city governments and to Newport's status as an iconic sailing destination. The visitor turnout has been great. We're confident we can bring this race back to Newport and build on the success."
Frostad said that although it took many years for the race to visit Newport (this is the 12th edition of the race), a key to returning was a strong commitment from governing officials. Frostad noted that Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo and state Senate president Teresa Paiva Weed are committed to bringing the race back to the City-by-the-Sea.
"Hosting a stopover is a joint venture," Frostad said. "We bring a show to the city, and the city has to bring infrastructure, and together we make the stopover. A good stopover has to do with enthusiasm and commitment from the government. It's very much about the commitment of the government and the delivery partner, which in this case is Sail Newport. The state government, local government, governor and senator have all committed what they can to make the next stopover successful."
Already six ports have been confirmed for the 2017-18 race: Alicante, Spain (which will host the race start for the fourth consecutive edition); Cape Town; Auckland, New Zealand; Lisbon, Portugal; Cardiff, Wales; and Gothenburg, Sweden (where the current race will conclude at the end of June).
Frostad said the final route will be announced next January.