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America's Cup: Reach more than Revenue driving Cup coverage

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World.com/nz 17 Oct 2018 20:21 PDT 18 October 2018
The media coverage from the 36th America's Cup Regatta and preceding events will focus on maximising audience reach to give team and event sponsors maximum viewership © Richard Gladwell

Part 2 of Sail-World.com/nz's Editor Richard Gladwell's interview with Laurent Esquier, CEO of the Challenger of Record organisation for the 2021 America's Cup, who was in Auckland on a flying four-day visit last week.

For the first part click here

In the second part of the interview, Laurent Esquier, a veteran of 11 America's Cup campaigns as a sailor, coach and event organiser discusses the CoR's reaction to the fledgling SailGP series; the media arrangements for the America's Cup and build-up regattas; the Italian/European look planned for the America's Cup Village and Bases; the Race Director's role and appointment; and the venues for the America's Cup World Series.

SailGP: "I only wish we were younger"

The much vaunted SailGp series was announced, London in two weeks previously, bringing to an end 12 months of speculation and questions surrounding the new event.

Using a one-design version of the foiling wingsailed 50ft catamarans used in the 2017 America's Cup, the five regatta circuit was expected to be pitched against the America's Cup.

That has not really has not proved to be the case, with four of the six skippers from Bermuda joining one of the 2021 America's Cup teams.

Instead, the Larry Ellison backed, Russell Coutts driven, circuit looks to have captured a sweet spot in the professional sailing scene and is expected to be complementary to the bigger budget America's Cup teams.

"I did send a congratulatory message to the SailGP guys," says Esquier. "I think it was a great launch and I believe this is all positive for world sailing and will contribute to the public awareness of the sport, media and sponsors."

"Every time we have a change in the America's Cup, the naysayers say that is the end of the Cup; it will never be raced again; debate the merits of big boats vs small boats etc. But that is not the way it works. The Cup has a life of its own. The onus is on the other events to see if they can keep up. If anything SailGP and other circuits help everyone in the sport."

"I'm sure if you asked any of those people in those boats, they would love to be in the America's Cup. That's a fact.”

"Is it going to be a feeder for America's Cup? It will create the base or widen the base of the foiling community. For sure some of those sailors will wind up in the next America's Cup."

"I would not demean those events. I would be uncomfortable doing that. They have their own life, their dynamics which are not the America's Cup. So good luck to them."

"It is the same with the Foiling Weeks with all the different boats competing. It is all good for the foiling community. Everyone wants to go foiling now. You can go foiling when you are 14years old now - what is wrong with that?"

"I only wish we had those when we were younger."

New media package aims to massively increase reach to Cup fans and build sponsor benefit

Promoting the America's Cup to media organisations is also a cooperative project between the Defender's and Challenger of Record's organisations, ACE and CoR36 respectively.

"We have a lot in common with the Defender in terms of marketing and communication rights and so on," Esquier explains.

"We are separated when we are on the race course, but we are communicating on the event level, because we want to hit the same targets, the most important of which is increasing our reach.”

"If a partner commits to the broadcast they will have full rights and viewers won't have to buy an additional app for your cell phone. I will give you the full TV product. You can only do this if you have a strong joint venture and we work hand in hand with the Defender’s organisation."

“I am not saying it is easy street, but you know where you are going.”

"Mr. Bertelli (Chairman of Luna Rossa Challenge and co-CEO of Prada) is not in this to make money. The objective is to make as big a footprint for the event as possible. The Challengers are also buying into that."

The 36th America's Cup will break new ground in sports broadcasting for one of the world's most prestigious sporting events.

"We are not buying space. We are not buying time. We are distributing content free-to-air. If you commit to broadcast the full production, you will have as a starting point as the same content level we saw in Bermuda - and we will go way beyond that. We will have as much reach as we can worldwide. That is, all media - social, digital, TV and 360VR.”

“We have had discussions with the Challengers as we don't want to undercut them. The Challengers have told us the same thing - which is a message of quality, and breadth and reaching as much of the potential viewing audience as possible.

Esquier says there may even be multiple broadcasters covering one territory or region, and in any event the America’s Cup will also be shown live on the America’s Cup website and social media channels.

"We have opened it up but are a long way from closing all the broadcast deals. We are hitting maybe 200 networks worldwide.

The live YouTube video broadcast will be back and will go beyond the last two America's Cup regattas by also being on other social media such as Facebook and Instagram. There will also be extensive highlights coverage online.

"There is also going to be a very large push on social media and the digital budget for the Challenger of Record is half of our operating budget. We also need to pay for the preliminary events, on top of all this. Part of the entry fees of the competitors will go towards those costs – as set out in the Protocol. The Challenger of Record along with the Defender are seeking sponsors for the global events and that sponsorship goes towards producing the broadcast and World Series.”

"The TV audience will be very large because we are not looking for revenues first, rather we are looking for reach. The distribution is going to be much wider than before."

Are other sports running that model?

"No, because they are all just trying to make a buck out of it,” is Esquier's short response.

A touch of Italian

Two months ago, during the recent Environment Court Hearings in Auckland, there was a stand-off between the Challenger of Record, the Defender and an Expert Planning group over Design Requirements for the America's Cup bases in Auckland. Esquier says that is now behind them and the teams will be able to work within the restrictions that have been imposed.

"We were not very close to it [the Environment Court hearings]. With so many stakeholders it was a very involved process. But for the type of infrastraucture and investment involved, I think it went extremely well."

"We are happy with the design envelope that has been approved we will stay within the height and footprint. There is a bunch of detail but it is not going to be an issue. It is going to work out."

"With the bases, each team will develop their own of course. We have not yet designed the media centre, merchandising or the Luna Rossa base. It is all being worked on. We are not worried about the design restrictions. It is all common sense.

"The style of bases will depend on how much each team wants to invest. But we will stay within the envelope of the Consent. The branding elements will all be covered in a Branding manual, which we will be supplying to the teams in a couple of months. This will tie everything together, not only giving the bases the look and feel of belonging to a village but also incorporating the rest of the America's Cup Village and Venue.

"The media centre, hospitality and merchandising area will have a unique architectural character, plus there will be a lot of smaller elements which will all add architectural coherence to the final venue."

" This America's Cup is different from other America's Cup venues. The waterfront edge is a long and narrow stretch. So it is very positive for the flow of the foot traffic. We are working on a way to give it a Village feel. It is a very interesting venue. There are a lot of options," he adds drawing on his property management experience.

Of his four day visit, Esquier says: "it is all very positive. I am very happy with it.

"I was lucky to get a meeting with Mayor Goff."

"I was very impressed with the way he has engaged and the support from all the groups. I think this is very unique. I have been involved in a lot of Cups and the last time I can remember this sort of feeling was back in Perth in Western Australia."

"In Fremantle, we had the same feeling of nice flow and people at all levels wanted you there. I think we are in a unique situation in Auckland. For Prada and the Challenger group, it is very encouraging. Very nice."

A feature of the Prada sponsored Luna Rossa has always been the team’s ability to make a fashion statement about their boats and base.

In Valencia in 2007 there was the cube-shaped base skinned in used IACC mainsails. Then in 2013 there was the silver-skinned AC72 and her silver suited crew.

Fans and teams can expect Prada’s under-stated elegance and style will be extended across the America's Cup Village as one of the worlds high-end fashion houses makes its mark.

"There are very good lines of communication with the Defender and we are totally on the same wavelength on this, and also with Tina Symmans and her team from America's Cup Events (ACE)."

"The relationship is about as good as it could be. We are all going in the same direction", he adds.

While Esquier was in Auckland, Emirates Team New Zealand started to move into their new base in the three level, glass walled Viaduct Events Centre which dominates the designated America's Cup base area.

Asked if he thought it was an advantage for the Defender to be the first established in the Cup venue, Esquier was non-committal.

" I don't know whether it is an advantage or disadvantage, but I visited the place yesterday with Tina Symmans. It is just fantastic! What a location!

"I said to Grant Dalton "don't get used to this because it is not real life!"

"It is beautiful."

Race director appointment imminent

On the water, like ashore, a similar gear-up is underway.

For the first time in modern America's Cup history, the Match and Challenger Selection Series will be sailed on a multitude of course locations, with the yet to be appointed Race Director having to make a course area call early in the day.

Esquier says that appointment is in the final stage of negotiation, and much of the detail of the race management will be worked through by the Race Director before being signed off by the Challenger and Defender.

Picks from around the waterfront are that someone with previous America's Cup experience will be engaged. Iain Murray, the Regatta for San Francisco and Bermuda has been snapped up by the just-announced Sailing GP series.

One of the Race Director’s priority items will be just how the five race courses will work in Auckland. but the concept was tried in a more pragmatic, flexible form in the 2009 Louis Vuitton Pacific Series, and worked well.

"We're not there yet on a lot of the organisation details”, Esquier notes. “The marshalling in the course area has to have the flexibility if we are going to change courses."

Mix of sailing and promotional events planned for next two years

Esquier says he expects the Challenger of Record to move from Milan, Italy to Auckland in October 2020, once the America's Cup World Series events have concluded. The emphasis will then shift to Auckland for the Christmas Race in late 2020, followed by the Prada Cup (the Challenger Selection Series) in January-February and America's Cup presented by Prada in March 2021.

"Right now we are focussing on organising the first America’s Cup World Series and the non-sailing promotional events," Esquier explains

The first of four America's Cup Overture events was held last month in Cowes.

"They are interesting events because they are non-sailing, promotional events - a combination of high-tech digital and historical content," Esquier elaborates.

“The next one is in Monaco in November, then we will have one in Asia and one in Newport, RI, prior to the World Series starting in autumn 2019 - so that is our focus for the next few months. The first America’s Cup World Cup Series event will be in Italy.”

"We want the first event for those boats to be foiling - with a good breeze. The first one will be at the end of September. We have to show the world that the concept is working. At present we know the concept is working from Ben's (Ainslie) [28ft] boat - but that is small scale."

"The learning curve might be steep, but with the type of sailors we get on the AC75s, we will make it work", says the former America's Cup coach.

"Part of the event will be training, and then there will be racing, most of which is fleet racing. We might go to a Match Race on the last day. In the first America’s Cup World Series we are going to focus on making sure that the competitors get as much training and racing as possible. What happens in future events is a decision we will make together.”

"It is probably going to be four days of racing and five days of practice - so there is a week and a half on the water."

For the first part of this story click here

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