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A Q&A with Ben Klatzka about his plans for the Premiere Sailing League

by David Schmidt, Sail-World USA Editor on 7 Nov 2016
Premier Sailing League Ben Klatzka / Premier Sailing League
Ben Klatzka likes to dream big. The German national has spent the past several years living, working and sailing in the USA, while also developing his plans for the first National Sailing League of the United States, Premiere Sailing League (PSL). This new transcontinental racing series—the first of its kind in the USA—is being modeled after the other national sports leagues that exist in the USA and will see teams competing aboard J/70 and J/88 One Designs for both regional- and national-level bragging rights.

The PSL is expected to involve club-level teams from different grassroots regions competing for local honors. The winners of these local events will progress to regional and then national events. While his plans are still being formulated, Klatzka envisions regional-level events unfurling in 24 cities nationwide, and he is open to talking with interested cities, provided that they offer a stadium-style sailing venue as well as the right kind of shore-side facilities and amenities that will make attending PSL events fun for the whole family.



Each participating club will field an twelve-person squad that represents the team colors at local regattas; four out of the twelve crewmembers can participate in any given race, and individual sailors can be rotated in. Each team will design their own team jerseys, which helps facilitate a team spirit while also creating advertising space for sponsor logos.

According to Klatzka, the league was created “with the objective of strengthening community and camaraderie within the sport of sailing by providing an integrated platform that brings sailing clubs together to compete at both a local and national level.” Klatzka recently conducted a big driving tour of the USA in order to meet with potential sponsors, partners and sailors and to physically see the sailing venues that are currently on his list of possible venues, and he stopped in Seattle, where I had the opportunity to interview him about his bold idea.



Can you tell me about your vision for the Premier Sailing League?
The vision for the Premier Sailing League is that everyone can have access to sailing, everyone understands what it means being on the water, teamwork, [and] being together. [Sailing is] not only a rich [person’s] sport, it is a sport where everyone can afford [to participate], coming like Christopher Columbus when he came to the United States. It’s teamwork, he couldn’t do it alone, you have to do it together.

So am I correct that this is molded after some of the professional sailing leagues that exist in Europe?
It is kind of molded [like that], but it’s a little different. Because looking [at] how big America is [compared to] Europe, you have to think about the [regions] where you’re sailing. [You could say it’s a] different version of the bigger version of the European [leagues, where] you have to have access for everyone who want to be able to participate.

What kind of money is up for grabs?
There will be no prize money.



So what’s the prize?
It’s based on the American’s Cup with the big trophy. [The goal is] to be the national sailing club or national sailing organization who are the best, nation-wide. [This has added meaning] because you’re not only a yacht club[—instead, you are an inclusive] sailing club. [In the Premiere Sailing League,] a sailing organization could be the Navy, the Coastguard, [or it] could be high-school team, [a] College team, [or it] could be anyone who is [interested].

Can teams get sponsors who help offset some of their costs?
Each team can have [its] own private sponsorship. This is why we created the [new team] jerseys. You can have your sponsors’ [logo] on front and you can represent your local business, [or] you can represent your local team. [This] depends on what you want to do, or [what your club wants to do].

Are you interested in attracting accomplished sailors, or do you see this more as a new avenue into sailing for newcomers?
It’s based on the families. I have friends who are interested in sailing but they cannot come [to regattas] because we are always sailing out of the harbor, way out [of sight].

[I envision] stadium-style sailing [that’s] based closer to the harbor, [so that] I can explain to my friends what my team or the other teams [is] doing [on the course]. With the [crew] rotation on [and off] the boat, [we’re] not [talking about] five or six hours on the boat. We [talking about] a short time on the boat, and we are back [ashore] and we can talk to our families. [This way,] I can be together with my kids [and friends].



Can you tell me about the demonstration event hat you held this summer in Grosse Pointe, Michigan?
It was amazing, we have something [that] is like incredible to see, and the boats are so close [to shore that] people can scream to the boats, “Hey your spin sheet [is dragging].” This is what we want to [create across the country].

So if I am remembering correctly, you tried to start the PSL in 2015. I’m curious as to what has changed that you think would now allow it to move forward?
[I’ve been travelling all across the nation, trying] to understand the country, [and the] difference between the north, south, east, and west. You have to know [this place] to start a league. We can make an event, but it isn’t a league. This is why it takes a bit longer to make it right, we could start events everywhere but it isn’t a league. We want to do it right [this] time.



There’s has been a lot of talk in the United States about how professionals sailors can change a class like the J/70. What kind of impact you think the PSL will have on the classes that you’re plan on using?
The thing about the [J/70 and the J/88], the boats are [great platforms, but they can change over time]. These boats are perfect for [PSL sailors]. [Someone] the age of 13 can use the boat, it’s safe, you have a keel. You have [two] boats that [can] have different [purposes], not only for racing, but also for learning to sail, [and] also for people who just want to relax and [day sail].

A big boat is nice definitely, but I would use a big boat for a long time. This is more like about enjoying [being on the water] and racing at the same time. This is why these boats are perfect for the league[—they are extremely versatile].

Is there anything else you would like to add, for the record?
Everyone is busy today with [earning] money, doing work, and having [a] family. [With the PSL] you can still [sail and spend] your free time together [with your family]. This is what we are looking to, you’re not going [to participate] just because you love to sail and your other family members don’t. No, you [want to] be there together, to enjoy the whole weekend together, and [you] also [want to be] with friends.

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