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SailGP: Coutts says circuit will become profitable when Title sponsorship is signed

by SportsBusiness.com/Sail-World.com 27 Aug 2021 16:54 PDT 28 August 2021
New Zealand SailGP Team is linked with Live Ocean - the charitable environment trust founded by Peter Burling and Blair Tuke © Bob Martin/SailGP

Russell Coutts, co-founder of the SailGP circuit, has told SportBusiness.com that the SailGP circuit, will become profitable once the title sponsorship for the series is signed.

The Larry Ellison backed circuit currently stands at eight teams, however a ninth team has been signed, leaving only one franchise available for a new team.

Coutts says the circuit, which sails F50 wingsailed foiling catamarans developed from the 2017 America's Cup, will be locked at 10 teams.

The Olympic Gold medalist and five times America's Cup winner told SportsBusiness “we’re locking the number of franchises off at ten. Once we’ve reached that then the only way in is to buy into one of the existing teams."

“We’re now getting approaches from various entities and there will be some announcements coming up.”

He goes on to say that once the ten team slots have been taken, then new players wanting to enter the eight venue SailGP circuit, will have to buy an existing franchise. Coutts expects the SailGP teams to change hands for around USD$20million, which he believes is very good value for an investor.

INEOS Sports did that, for an undisclosed price, with the British franchise, before the end of Season 1. The move brought team principal, America's Cup winner and the most successful sailor in Olympic history, Ben Ainslie to the SailGP fold.

Ainslie put his mark on the event with a commanding win in his first event, defeating Olympic Gold medalist and America's Cup Champion Tom Slingsby (AUS). Slingsby's Australia SailGP team won the $1million winner-takes-all for winning the final event in Season 1.

In Season 2, Ainslie has been joined by America's Cup winning skippers Jimmy Spithill (AUS/USA) and Peter Burling (NZL). All the winners of the America's Cup for the last 10 years are competing in SailGP, which seems to have found a good niche alongside the America's Cup, the most prestigious event in sailing, and the oldest trophy in international sport.

Other revenue sources for SailGP include the sale of TV rights for various international territories, mostly to subscription based broadcasters. The live racing and practice sessions are also attracting a substantial on-shore audience venues. Although Hosting Fees have not been publicly announced they are believed to be asking around $5million per event.

SailGP runs its own building and composite engineering facility, Core Builders Composites, about an hour's drive north of Auckland, New Zealand - which builds and maintains the F50's - several of which sailed in the 2017 America's Cup in Bermuda. SailGP continues to push the F50 concept beyond that used for the then AC50, used in the America's Cup. That includes development of a modular wingsail - allowing the power of the sail to be adjusted to suit the prevailing conditions for each race day, making the F50 more versatile and ensuring that live TV production and coverage will start as scheduled - almost regardless of the weather

Coutts told SportBusiness: “To run SailGP profitably, that is not far off now. Once we sell the title partnership, that will turn into a profit centre."

“And then venues [fees] are improving and interest in team franchises is strong."

“We’re definitely on a good pathway right now. Of course, things can change but I’m definitely comfortable with where we are at the moment.”

Coutts told SportsBusiness that SailGP's sustainability message and association with the Powered by Nature™ theme makes SailGP attractive to corporates looking to embrace the same values, along with getting an substantial entree into a visually exciting sailing event that has attracted some of the top names in the sport.

“All companies are having to be active and visible in this space now. It’s not going to be acceptable to ignore this category going forward. There isn’t any excuse. So we’re well positioned there,” he said.

One of the teams, skippered by current America's Cup champion, Peter Burling carries the logo of their Live Ocean marine-focused charitable trust, which already has four projects underway, including tracking Southern Right Whales and the Antipodean Albatross.

Remarkably the SailGP circuit has been able to function despite the COVID-19 pandemic, and is expected to running at full speed once international borders open for travel, without quarantine, for fully vaccinated international athletes, events organisers and fans.

Returning to attracting a title sponsor for SailGP, Coutts says that “We don’t want to sell it too cheaply. As the property is building and we are creating more awareness, expanding our venue calendar and number of teams, that draws more interest from those team markets and the title partnership becomes more valuable.

“We’ve got our ideas about which categories would be ideal for us. Obviously, we wouldn’t turn away a great offer but would have our preferences as to which categories fit our purpose objectives.”

For the full story in SportsBusiness click here.

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