At first glance, the World Match Racing Tour was the sailing event most likely to be effected by changes to the America’s Cup. Despite Russell Coutts’ claims that there is no identifiable pathway for sailors to the America’s Cup, the WMRT, at the top of a pyramid of global support racing, has consistently provided elite competition for skippers who have dreams of becoming AC heroes.
At a well produced press announcement in London’s Hospital Club yesterday, the World Match Racing Tour responded to recent planned changes to the America’s Cup by confirming the vision outlined by new owners last December. WMRT CEO Jim O’Toole presented a platform that he believes will fill a void left by the America’s Cup moving to multihull boats.
The highlights of the plan are – more races at more venues, more prize money and new boats.
Yesterday’s event was hosted by Jake Humphrey, who also presents the BBC’s coverage of F1 (and the Commonwealth Games). Perhaps due to BBC regulations, Humphrey, who uses Twitter regularly, did not mention the gig once and seemed a little uneasy after watching a highlights package delivering the line:
“… and I thought F1 was exciting.”
The World Match Racing Tour has done some homework. Jim O’Toole presented figures from a recent survey that showed that nearly 80% of sailors would prefer to match race in a monohull yacht and 73% of people would prefer to watch match racing in a monohull boat. If the America’s Cup Defender BMW ORACLE, have consulted widely and has results of surveys that prove different, then they haven’t revealed them publicly.
We are comfortable with our place in the sailing universe. That universe has changed recently, but we have consulted with our stakeholders and we have made the decision to stick with monohulls. While we are committed to preserving the integrity of what the public sees as match racing we also have a responsibility to drive the sport forward and ensure that it constantly seeks to innovate and expand. The doubling of the prize fund and addition of six new venues by 2013 with new boat designs shows our commitment to attracting great sailors and providing the best platform for match racing.”
Peter Gilmour, representing the views of the Tour’s owners said:
The decision by the America’s Cup holders to embrace catamarans means that it has moved out of the space which it had previously held as the pinnacle event in match racing and feedback that we are receiving indicates the interest remains. As the conduit for match racers around the world to realise their ambitions we will facilitate a collaborative process and provide a platform for interested parties to voice their thoughts.”
More Events, More Global.
In 2010, the World Match Racing Tour is the only annual sailing event outside of the Olympic Classes to visit more than 3 continents. This difference is being challenged by the Extreme Sailing Series, who plan to hold more events outside of Europe in 2011, the RC44 championship who are adding events in the USA and the proposed annual America’s Cup series aims to be as global as possible.
In order for the World March Racing Tour to be relevant to sponsors, the series must expand into territories that are important markets for stakeholders. There are currently no WMRT events in Australia, USA, UK or the Middle East.
Taking a leaf out of the Volvo Ocean’s Race’s book, the World Match Racing Tour have announced that 6 new events will be added to the tour via a bidding process to be managed by external consultants. The bidding process for host cities will be revealed later, but venues will have to meet environmental criteria (there needs to be wind) as well as financial obligations to cover prize-money and media plans. New venues will also be expected to provide new high-spec match racing boats.
More Prize Money.
Sailing hasn’t really managed to crack the professional model yet. While 2nd and 3rd tier Golf and Tennis professionals can make a living from their sport, the top 5 person teams in the World Match Racing Tour barely cover their costs from prize money alone. The Defending Champions, Black Match Racing have won around $USD 86,000 to date in 2010.
To address this, the World Match Racing Tour will be doubling the tour’s bonus prize pool to USD $500,000 meaning sailors will compete for a total prize fund in excess of USD $1,750,000 in 2011. While this might sound like a lot, it represents 1% of a single America’s Cup team’s estimated budget for the next America’s Cup.
Future stars like Torvar Mirsky and Adam Minoprio have managed to build teams based on prize-money, that has allowed them to compete at a level that might otherwise require large sponsorships. Increased prize money should attract professional sailors to the tour and large bonuses are a huge incentive to win the event.
The World Match Racing Tour has a unique business model where the boats are provided by event organisers and matched as closely as possible to ensure that the skill of the sailors is the defining characteristic of racing. After promoting this concept via some polished highlights videos, the Tour announced yesterday that new venues would be encouraged to supply a new kind of match racing boat. The boat would be a result of a design competition for a monohull in the 42-48 foot range.
If Match Racing is the sailing discipline that focuses on the sailors and not the machines, then the boats shouldn’t matter too much. Nevertheless, to attract the best sailors, the tour needs to provide the best platform for match racing while not losing the element of every team having to adapt to a new boat for each event.
The World Match Racing Tour has one real advantage over the America’s Cup circa 2010. They can put young, talented sailors on stage and show the world what the future of sailing looks like. Torvar Mirsky and Adam Minoprio are two of the sport’s best ambassadors who have invested time and money to reach the top. The decision by those in the ‘America’s Cup’ community to ignore the preferences of these sailors when making the choice of boat for the future shows a disregard for the system which people like Russell Coutts benefited from.
Had the America’s Cup been in monohulls, these young, talented sailors may have been in demand from teams who wanted the best match racing drivers in the world. While good sailors can adapt to new boats, it’s unlikely that Mirsky and Minoprio will be involved in the next Cup that has the stated aim of being about the future.
Like NASCAR, which is the pinnacle event for thousands of grass roots oval track racers in America, the World Match Racing Tour is the top of a pyramid that is supported by match racing infrastructure at a local, national and international level. This infrastructure has a momentum that will take time to redirect to a multihull match-racing universe and in the mean time, the World Match Racing Tour continues to be the premier annual global match racing event, with the winner having the official title of World Champion.
The World Match Racing Tour has existed in some form or other for 22 years is extremely well positioned to showcase all of sailings positive attributes. Fair competitive racing, glamorous venues, media friendly competitors and a platform for sponsorship returns. With a commitment from the owners to invest in building the event, it should succeed.
World Match Racing Tour Earnings 2010
It’s interesting to note that the Official World Match Racing Tour website does not list the prize-winnings of teams. Perhaps sailing is not a sport that is comfortable with its professionalism. The official NASCAR results page includes prize winnings as part of it’s championship table, as does the PGA Tour…
We asked the WMRT for a breakdown to date for prize-money of the top 3 teams to date in 2010 and here are the results.
- Mathieu Richard (FRA) French Match Racing Team – $USD 144,970.00 (Championship position 1)
- Ben Ainslie (GBR) TEAMORIGIN – $USD 104,721.00 (Championship position 3)
- Adam Minoprio (NZL) ETNZ/BlackMatch Racing – $USD 86,261.00 (Championship position 2)