Spec­ta­tor friendly

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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

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