‘EVERYONE KEEPS COMPARING THIS TO THE AMERICA’S CUP AND REALLY WE’RE NOT. WE’RE A WHOLE NEW SPORTS LEAGUE’
framework agreement, so painstakingly hammered out during the last America’s Cup, came to naught.
The framework was driven by Ellison’s Oracle Team USA and put in place a pre-agreed format of a two-year cycle in a catamaran class and a World Series, reducing costs and offering more stability to sponsors with the hope of increasing entry numbers. But when Emirates Team New Zealand, the only team not to sign up, won in Bermuda, the framework was filed firmly in the ‘ideas that will never happen’ box.
Sailgp actually goes considerably further than those proposals. There is a strong nationality component, which would never have been accepted by Cup teams cherrypicking talent. The F50s are going to be a strictly monitored one-design, the antithesis of the America’s Cup design race.
In fact, Sailgp bears closer comparison to another circuit announced a decade ago. The World Sailing League was unveiled to much fanfare in 2007 by Coutts and Paul Cayard, and promised 12 teams representing their nation, competing in one-design catamarans on a global circuit for a €2 million prize. So far, so familiar.
It never happened. “Unfortunately the promoter, Lagos Sports of Portugal, had a number of setbacks and was unable to fulfil the underwriting commitment to get the project started,” explained Cayard in 2009. The gap was partly filled by the Extreme Sailing Series – the shortcourse catamaran circuit which attracted plenty of teams and media interest, albeit in rather robust 40-footers. Coutts, however, wasn’t done with the idea. He remained convinced that there must be a way of creating a commercially viable, self sustaining, spectator friendly sailing event.
He joined BMW Oracle Racing as CEO for the 2010 America’s Cup (ironically one of the least sustainable, when just two gigantic mismatched multihulls competed off Valencia), and stayed on as team boss for 2013. Many of the building blocks for the Sailgp concept were introduced there: two seasons of World Series fleet racing events for one-design foiling catamarans, rules to limit costs, and short courses close to shore.
For 2017 he was boss of the America’s Cup Event Authority in Bermuda, which saw developments including high-tech television coverage with biometric data from the sailors mid-race.
Larry Ellison, the founder of software giant Oracle, was meanwhile busy confirming his status as the man who has spent most on yachting in living memory. The rumoured costs of his 2017 campaign range from US$150-200 million, and anything up to $300 million on the one before that. He’s backed five Cup campaigns, and also part-funded the Softbank Team Japan challenger. Forbes ranks Ellison as the 8th richest man in the world, with a personal fortune of $58 billion.
Ellison is the reason Sailgp can succeed where previous events failed. He has underwritten the entire event for three years, including all six teams
America’s Cup legend Russell Coutts is CEO of Sailgp