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Coutts confident SailGP will become financially viable

by Tom Carey 25 Jun 2019 00:14 PDT 25 June 2019
Australia SailGP Team races their F50. Race Day 1 Event 3 Season 1 SailGP event in New York City, New York, United States. 21 June . © Sam Greenfield for SailGP

Leading sailing and America's Cup correspondent for the The Telegraph. Tom Carey was in New York for the third round of the SailGP regatta, and spoke with Sir Russell Coutts, who created the new circuit, using a one design version of the AC50 yachts, used in the 35th America's Cup in Bermuda.

The first round was sailed in Sydney in flat water and light winds, which gave a soft opening to the series.

Is it possible to build a commercially sustainable, televised professional sailing series? Is there an appetite for such a thing? From sponsors, from television viewers, from general sports fans? New Zealand’s five-times America’s Cup winner Sir Russell Coutts, and Oracle software gazillionaire Larry Ellison, are trying to find out, Carey told his readers in a fll page story in The Daily Telegraph.

Emirates Team New Zealand won in Bermuda two years ago. And the Kiwis decided instead to rip things up and start again, announcing that the next edition of the Cup would be fought over in foiling monohulls in Auckland in 2021.

Teams are going to need budgets northwards of £100 million just to be competitive.

Coutts suggests now that Oracle’s defeat in Bermuda might have been a blessing in disguise. It is so much easier, he says, not to mention cheaper, building a series in one-design boats in which costs can be closely controlled.

In its first season, SailGP has six teams all using identical foiling catamarans which have been brought in from the last America’s Cup cycle, with one or two modifications to make them even racier. They are now pushing 50 knots in less than half that breeze.

Budgets are around $7m (£5.5m) per team per season. But crucially, and this is what gives the series a fighting chance of establishing itself, Ellison has agreed to underwrite the costs for the first five years.

Teams will have to become self-sufficient in that time. But Coutts is confident that won’t be a problem. “If we haven’t raised sponsorship by then [2024] you would have to question whether you will ever raise it,” he said. “But I am confident with our price point because we are able to keep costs lower. We are one-design so we avoid the cost of duplication. That has a massive implication.

“At least one of our founding partners has signed a very long-term agreement. You couldn’t do that in America’s Cup. You couldn’t say for certainty you would come back to that venue or sign a long term media partnership.”

It is easy to see SailGP as a rival to the America’s Cup, trying to muscle in on its patch. Coutts, though, is clearly keen to avoid antagonising his erstwhile colleagues and rivals.

“Honestly, we aren’t trying to compare ourselves to [it]… we aren’t comparable to anything else in the sport. Sailing has simply never had a professional circuit, with national teams. But do I think this will be a more successful commercial model [than the America’s Cup]? Absolutely. It’s a no-brainer.”

For the full story from Tom Carey click here

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