OC Sport’s Mark Turner on what to expect from the 2014 Extreme Sailing Series
Extreme Sailing Series organisers OC Sport, alongside Land Rover, the main partner of the series, confirmed details of the 2014 calendar at a launch in London earlier this week. The eighth Extreme Sailing Series season will span three continents and include two new host venues: the Russian city of St Petersburg and Sydney, Australia.
Nine elite level teams will compete, representing seven different countries. All of the 2013 teams will return and the series will also welcome the addition of Olympic legend Sir Ben Ainslie and Volvo Ocean Race winner Franck Cammas. The in-shore, ‘stadium sailing’-based series will start with an event in Singapore’s Marina Bay on 20th February. The series will then head to Muscat, Qingdao, St Petersburg, Cardiff, Istanbul and a venue yet to be announced in the Mediterranean before the final Act in Sydney in December. Brazil is the notable omission from the schedule having previously signed a four-year hosting agreement in October 2012, although the country is set for a return in 2015.
SportsPro sat down with OC Sport’s executive chairman Mark Turner to get his thoughts on the changes for 2014 and the season ahead.
The big news is obviously having Ben Ainslie Racing on board for the whole season. What kind of commercial and marketing opportunities does that open up for the series?
Every year you’ve got your main stories. Ben coming on board for 2014 is clearly a great story and the timing is obviously perfect from that perspective with the recent America’s Cup profile. It adds a lot of credibility sailing-wise that he’s ready to come and do this series with a desire to win it. He’ll have a hard time; it’s not going to be an easy run for him. It helps media-wise, TV-wise, VIP-wise, and public-wise, particularly in the UK. Ben is perhaps not as well known as you might imagine around the world, outside the sailing world and as our project is primarily a non-sailing product; we’re going into places with audiences of non-sailing VIPs so perhaps the impact is less outside of the UK. But clearly it’s a massive boost for us in the UK and good credibility for the series overall in every other respect. To be honest with you having Franck Cammas in France is the same as having Ben in the UK. There’s another team not announced so I can’t say that one, but it’ll have the same impact in another country. Oman in the Middle East: we’ve got the leading project you could have in the Middle East: GAC Pindar is actually the guise of Team Australia that are sailing the boat so we effectively have a very strong story down-under. It’s a combination of all those things ultimately that make it work. It’s not one story that gives you all the value across the world. It’s lots of different things and different ways and quite often it’s the home teams that we haven’t announced here, the wild card entries, that are key to opening up the media coverage and the interest in a particular country. In Istanbul having a home Turkish team will be more important than anything else from a media and TV perspective. It’s a combination of those things overall. Doing a global series means that there’s no one thing that’s the same between the Acts, they’re all different in terms of which buttons you’ve got to push to make it work.
The series has established itself and proved that it can remain established year on year but is there a particular focus this year given that, there’s no America’s Cup, there’s no America’s Cup World Series?
I think there are two different things here: the Cup is a strange beast, almost unparalleled in any other sport and its unreliability, yet scale - basically private money allows it to be something quite extraordinary in terms of scale and funding behind it. The combination of those two things makes it a pretty hard beast to work with, to be honest. But it’s our eighth year and for us it’s about building something that is consistent, reliable, global, annual and it’s delivering solid returns on the sponsorship front, which actually the Cup doesn’t necessarily do; it doesn’t even try to in some ways, it’s very much a private game with a sponsorship layer on top whereas we’re a sponsorship/brand solid organisation with occasionally some other things on top too. So we’re in a very different space. What we must do with the Cup is to make sure we try to benefit from the upsides which we’re clearly going to do in 2014, like we did in 2011 which was a similar year in between Cup cycles, and make sure we don’t become to beholden to it. We’re in a very different place financially in terms of the numbers; a team budget for the Extreme Sailing Series is €600,000 to €800,00, which wouldn’t get you very far in the America’s Cup, so keeping that separation is really important. We’re complementing each other. I think the America’s Cup and the Extreme Sailing Series in their different ways over the last eight years, certainly in the last three years, have grown the sport, taking it to new people in new markets and different places, and together that works extremely well. There’s very little conflict between the two. We’re sometimes a stepping stone up and down for brands and sailors, but we’re also a very solid place to be for the likes of some of these teams - like Red Bull who have been with us for five years. But, yes, the Cup is a difficult beast to work with because you don’t know where it’s going to be - even now we don’t know what 2016/17 will look like, so it’s good not to depend on it.
You’ve described this as the biggest, boldest calendar yet, with new events. In terms of the new ones, are you working with local partners on the ground?
Every country is slightly different in their set-up. Some places are working with a local promoter, who is taking risk. Other places we have all our own agreements directly but we still work with local companies to help us. So it’s a bit different venue to venue. In Sydney’s case we have a local promoter taking risk, owning the event going forwards; the local rights event. It’s a company called Extreme Sailing Australia who came to us, but it’s guys who have worked in the sailing industry and business for most of their careers, who I have known for a long time. We’ve been looking at Australia for a long time, trying to find a way in there. St Petersburg is a little bit more directly us with St Petersburg Yacht Club, with SAP who will be the local partner. For each event we have a local partner, so SAP in Russia will come on board as an additional local partner and we’ve done those agreements ourselves.
I was going to ask you about Gazprom who have a relationship with the St Petersburg Yacht Club, but it will be SAP who will be event partner?
Yep, SAP will be the local event partner. There will be a Russian team, a home team, and it may well be that Gazprom will be involved in that team, but I don’t know that yet. The models are slightly different, those two venues are quite different. Most of our venue deals are three years as well - we can’t actually change that many each year. We expect it to be in Brazil for the next two years and we will go back to Brazil, but disappointingly actually we don’t have Brazil in the 2014 calendar. The civil disturbances in Rio really created a problem for us; we had to change the event to a different venue quite late on and that event was held in December and the reality is with that event being in December we didn’t have a way to confirm the next year in time. So we had to give it a break for a year, but we will do some activation events in Brazil next year, exhibition events, and we will be back in Brazil in 2015. It’s a key country for us, we’ve invested in it a lot already and it was a great event in 2013 in Florianopolis; it was a really fantastic event.
"We have developed a very solid reputation; people believe in the circuit, they know it’ll be there next year, which is pretty unlike a lot of events in sailing."
What is the situation with the Mediterranean TBA event?
Its’ always annoying when you’re doing a launch and you can’t say definitively every single thing. In France every four years you have Mayoral elections in every big city. 2014 is the year and they will be in March, so it’s difficult for us to announce something when you think about a Mayor who may or may not be in power in two months time - basically makes it an impossible thing to announce. So we were forced to put off that announcement until after March, it should be announced in April. It’s a bit annoying, but I don’t think we’re alone in having to manage some of those sorts of complications.
What are your targets for the year and season from a commercial standpoint? Presumably the search goes on for a secondary main partner alongside Land Rover?
I’m confident that during the course of 2014 we will sign that second main partner. We’re only nine months into the Land Rover partnership, so this will be the first full year. We need to see how some of the openings we’ve had and discussed will fit with us and Land Rover as well. I think that they can see that Land Rover are doing a lot of positive work and that sitting alongside them will be a very good fit for a lot of brands and to share those rights equally. So I am very confident that we will sign up that second partnership in 2014 and we’ve got some good discussions going right now. That is a clear, big objective for us. The second commercial objective for us is to get our 2015 programme nailed a lot earlier. It’s not easy, it’s a very complex equation; unlike tennis where it’s just the tennis players having to go from place to place, we have to ship the boats from place to place. If you add on politics, complications, timings, agreements, logistics, shipping and all the rest of it, it’s a super complex thing to put together. Shipping everything from venue to venue along with our sponsors needs and hopes in terms of markets we’ll go to makes it extremely complex. But this year we’re very late, we only really nailed it four weeks ago and it’s just too late. So our big commercial objectives really are to get our 2015 and 2016 calendars nailed a lot earlier; by the summer basically. Obviously the plan is not for them to be public by then, but in terms of the teams and the people to give it a bit more certainty. Otherwise, we have developed a very solid reputation; people believe in the circuit, they know it’ll be there next year, which is pretty unlike a lot of events in sailing actually. It’s annual and they know that we’re going to visit key commercial markets around the world. So we have got ourselves a great product there, we just need to refine those things and sell the remaining rights that we’ve got to sell at event level. We need to always be looking forward to how we’re going to evolve, innovate and change going forward. It’s not going to stay the same, that’s for certain.