America's Cup heavyweights square off in Monaco

Interesting body language at the World Yacht Racing Forum. L-R Paul Cayard, Olympic, Volvo and America’s Cup Skipper, Tom Ehman BMW Oracle, head of external affairs and Stephan Kandler, K-Challenge.

'We need to manage our sport in a better and more cost-effective way', say World Yacht Racing Forum speakers.

The economic situation and the need to better manage our sport, including the America’s Cup, were at the heart of today’s debates at the World Yacht Racing Forum. The Cup debate was definitely one of the highlights of the day, with Tom Ehman and Brad Butterworth trying hard to convince the audience that their point of view is the right one.

After months of preparation and weeks of anticipation, the first World Yacht Racing Forum finally got underway. It allowed today 300 privileged delegates and sixty media to listen to some great debates and network with each other between the events.

The world economic situation was at the heart of most debates, the key actors of the yacht racing scene agreeing on the need to reduce costs and manage our sport better. Talking about the Volvo Ocean Race, Knut Frostad, the event’s CEO insisted on the need to grow the sport collectively. 'This Forum is great; it is the first time we are sitting together. We have so much to discuss and learn from each other! Sailing is only in the top 10 sports in three countries: Australia, New-Zealand and Sweden. We have a lot to achieve. Our goal with the Volvo Ocean Race is to reduce the costs drastically in the future; this will be our most immediate and effective action.'

Led by 'the voice' of the America’s Cup Peter Montgomery, and featuring Brad Butterworth, Tom Ehman, Paul Cayard, Sir Keith Mills, Stéphane Kandler and Alessandra Pandarese, the America’s Cup debate didn’t bring any immediate solutions but some interesting proposals were made for the future of the event.

More interesting body language at the World Yacht Racing Forum Picture shows, L-R, Brad Butterworth, Team Alinghi Skipper and Tactician, Sir Keith Mills, Team Origin Principal, Alessandra Pandarese, Legal Advisor, Paul Cayard, Olympic, Volvo and America's Cup Skipper, Tom Ehman BMW Oracle, head of external affairs and Stephan Kandler K-Challenge.

After Brad Butterworth and Tom Ehman explained their well known positions, Paul Cayard – the most popular speaker according to the level of applauses – summarised the situation best and said that the America’s Cup should be run by an independent body. 'This is not about Alinghi and BMW ORACLE Racing; it is about the future of the America’s Cup. We can not let this sport do what it wants to us. We need a better administration, with fair rules.

'I am convinced that we can modify the Protocol and yet perpetuate the spirit of the event. The mechanism set by America’s Cup Management is great; however this body should not belong to one of the competitors.' K-Challenge’s CEO Stéphane Kandler went in the same direction, stating that 'the America’s Cup has a huge value; this is why these two teams are fighting about it. What we need is a sustainable model.'

Whilst the America’s Cup debate was undoubtedly the highlight of the day, other topics of interest for the future of the yacht racing scene got discussed by the key actors of the industry. The event started with a keynote address by Sir Keith Mills, who said that 'sailing has now become a major business. The recession makes our life difficult but there are also great opportunities in a recession. We just need to manage our teams and events in a more cost-effective way.'

Brad Butterworth, Team Alinghi Skipper and Tactician and Sir Keith Mills, Team Origin Principal.

How do we drive the global growth of our sport? What are the keys to its development? These were some of the key issues debated by ISAF President Göran Petersson, who was on many occasions challenged by some of the speakers and the public. Everyone’s goals are different; ISAF has to please the IOC and work towards the development of sailing, including in developing countries, whilst most participants in the Forum represent commercial organisations, hence the differences in opinions.

Mr Petersson and most panellists agreed on the fact that 'the key element to the growth of our sport is exposition and media coverage.' A fact confirmed by Knut Frostad, who believes that the sailors are still often a long way behind understanding the importance of media for the development of their sport. 'The teams should organise media training sessions', explained Marcus Hutchinson, Director of Communication for the Volvo Ocean Race. 'And there are only very few new sailing journalists', added Peter Montgomery. 'This is worrying for the future.'

Also talking about the impact of the current economic situation on our sport, Paul Strzelecki, joint CEO of Henri Lloyd, said that 'the industry is asleep. The current situation will force them to wake up, that’s the good thing about it.' Wake up and be smarter; a feeling shared by OC Group CEO Mark Turner: 'Sponsorship is the main source of revenue for an event organiser. There is no money in TV – in fact we have to pay for what other sports get paid for - as for merchandising, it doesn’t bring any money unless you are already a huge corporation or organisation. The only reliable source of revenue is sponsorship. But the competition is tough and we need to be smarter.'

Race calendar management is probably one of the easiest targets to achieve between the different sailing Classes. Head of communication for the Vendée Globe, Christophe Baudry agrees that: Having the Vendée Globe and the Volvo Ocean Race taking place at the same time is nonsense. We should talk together.' But what is the independent body that can achieve this? Nobody knows. 'ISAF is far too disconnected to play this role at this stage', believes Mark Turner. 'Hopefully they will grow into a real controlling body for our sport. It could be good.'

Following the four debates and three presentations, including an interesting presentation by Yacht Club de Monaco Bernard d’Alessandri on the growth of classic yachts regattas, the participants joined the ‘Track & Ocean’ cocktail reception, jointly hosted with the Motorsport Business Forum, offering everyone an opportunity to meet and network with each other.

The second part of the event will take place Thursday, with four more debates based on the following topics: The Impact of Sailing Events on Host Cities and Nations; The Value of Sailing Sponsorship - how effective is the Return?; The Rise of Yacht Racing Events in the Middle East & Asia; What is the Commercial Value, and the Future of Offshore Shorthanded Racing?