Every sport has politics. But few sports are as fractured as the sport of yacht racing. The promotion of sailing events is more like boxing or music tours than organised leagues. The reason is that anyone with a bit of cash and an idea can start a sailing event. You can set up an event, even if it is pretty much the same as an existing event – which on the one hand means more sailing opportunities, but also leads to more fragmentation and cannibalisation of an already complicated ‘industry’.
Take the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series – a new event that has been widely hailed as a great success. Conceived to give America’s Cup teams something to do, and to give thier extremely patient sponsors some exposure while the New York court decided their fate, the LVPS is now ‘free’ to build on the momentum created by the first event.
The promoter of the LVPS, Bruno Trouble said to Sail-World in NZ:
‘We would love to continue and organize a few Louis Vuitton Series type regattas, either outside or as a complement to the America’s Cup circuit’
We also have to convince many of the newer teams, who need the experience and exposure, that this is the way to go until the America’s Cup is really back on track.
On the face of it, this sounds like a great idea, but there is already a sailing event set up to prepare America’s Cup teams for the big race – the World Match Racing Tour (WMRT). Admittedly, the WMRT is sailed mostly on smaller boats with only 5 crew needed, but the concept of learning match racing skills and delivering value to America’s Cup team sponsors is sound. Similarly, the RC44 series includes match racing and several America’s Cup teams compete in that series to gain experience and exposure. This year, the Audi Med Cup will see Emirates Team NZ compete in a TP52, a big boat that allows the team to stay together and practise away from the America’s Cup.
So why create another new event? The answer is Louis Vuitton’s approach to sponsorship. In fact, sponsorship is a dirty word to the luxury goods company. They prefer partnership or better still, complete ownership of the platform. Sponsorship is one of the reasons Louis Vuitton’s relationship with Alinghi soured. Trouble says that any future involvement would depend on the nature of the relationship:
‘If we are only a ‘’sponsor’’ paying the bill ( as we were in 2007) it will be a firm ‘’NO’’. If we are included in the organisation the way we were for 20 years ( 1983/2004 ) then we might be back.’
Title sponsorship, or ownership of an event is great for the marketing department of the brand in the driving seat. It is no accident that the iShares Cup for eXtreme 40 catamarans is held in iShare’s top European markets. When done right, all sponsorships are partnerships – built for the mutual benefit of the sport and the brand.
Bruno Trouble and Louis Vuitton have shown that they can deliver a great event that benefits the host city as much as the sponsor. The first LVPS was held in the southern hemisphere when the America’s Cup teams had little to do, with no conflicts with any other commitments. If the concept is to be expanded, then the organisers need to carefully consider the impact on existing events.
In an interview with Seahorse Magazine, Alinghi skipper Ed Baird, competing in the World Match Racing Tour for the first time in several years said:
You can’t do it all. We hope to do the majority of the (WMRT) tour events this year, but it has a lot to do with the outcome of BMW ORACLE’s lawsuit… Our goal is to prepare for the Cup. If the Cup is going to be monohull based, match racing, then the Tour is the right place for us to be.
Hopefully then, Bruno Trouble and Louis Vuitton will think about the wider implications of expanding the LVPS or something similar. If America’s Cup syndicates are forced to choose between regattas, then there will be knock on effects for all.
Sailing really needs to sort out these issues. Calendar conflicts, fragmentation of formats, multiple similar events competing for scarce sponsorship budgets, canibalisation, egos, politics, the complete abscence of control from the governing bodies. It will take someone like Louis Vuitton to try and create some common goals. It will also require some promoters to stop being so precious about ‘their’ events.