Sir Ben Ainslie’s America’s Cup team: ‘We’re in about as good a position as we possibly can be’
Olympic champion Sir Ben Ainslie believes his burgeoning British America's Cup team is "in about as good a position as we possibly can be", ahead of the publication of the protocol governing the next edition of sailing’s most prestigious event in the coming weeks.
Ainslie, who was part of the victorious Oracle Team USA crew which beat Emirates Team New Zealand in a memorable finale to the 34th Cup last September in San Francisco, has spent recent weeks meeting with potential private investors.
Around UK£35 million has already been secured, pending the release of the protocol document which is expected to confirm the location of the next Cup and the detailed technical specifications of boats, with another UK£15 million required from private sources. A further UK£50 million in sponsorship will be required to fully-fund the British challenge.
"We’re working very hard to get the funding in place, which we’re a long way down the road on," Ainslie said on Tuesday in London, where he was promoting the UK launch of the SOS rehydration drink in which he has taken a small equity stake.
"We’re looking at designers and sailors and the sporting team, to get that together. So I’m very, very happy.
"There are certain things which we know there’s a very strong likelihood it will happen," he added of the protocol, which will be put together by Larry Ellison's Team Oracle USA and the Golden Gate Yacht Club, which sanctions the team.
"There are other things that we’re not so sure about. In terms of our budget and planning, we have a degree of flexibility and it’s about trying to use as much common sense as possible. That is the difficult part with the America’s Cup, not knowing all of the fundamentals straight up. We have to be slightly flexible."
Ainslie, however, said he was buoyed by the interest from the unnamed private investors. Britain has never mounted a successful challenge for the America's Cup, but the competition's profile in the country has grown substantially by events in San Francisco last year, when Ainslie joined the Oracle crew to reverse a 8-1 deficit and defend the Auld Mug.
"I think certainly there’s a lot of support in the wake of the last Cup but I think a lot of these people have been successful in business, they’ve all had to take a risk, they’ve all had to start from somewhere and I think they probably appreciate what we’re trying to do," Ainslie said. "All of the guys who are supporting us privately are passionate about the sport and, yes, it’s an investment but a lot of it is patronage and about supporting British sport."
Ainslie, who is confirmed as a speaker for SportsPro Live on 13th March at London's Emirates Stadium, founded Ben Ainslie Racing in 2012, with a view to one day challenging for the America's Cup, but the project has accelerated since September. The team competed in the America's Cup World Series - the new competition designed to retain the interest of sponsors and fans in the long gaps between Cups - before Ainslie was hired by Team Oracle USA for last year's 34th Cup.
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In order to raise the UK£50 million of sponsorship required to fund the British challenge, Ainslie revealed that the team has put together an initial commercial structure will will see two sponsors sit underneath the team's title partner. JP Morgan, a long-time Ainslie backer and the title sponsor of Ben Ainslie Racing from its launch, is understood to have first refusal on title sponsorship for the Cup challenge. "We would love them to be our title sponsor and it’s something we’ve been talking about for quite some time," Ainslie said, adding that the team is also in talks with a sustainability partner.
"We’ve just been discussing," he said, "because until you get the firm venue and idea, then you can’t expect to sign any contracts for the serious amount of funding that we’re talking about." Nonetheless, Ainslie said he expects to have three-quarters of the team's commercial funding in place by the end of the year and plans to create a team base on the south coast of the UK.
He added: "We don’t have the luxury of some teams, who have a billionaire underwriting the whole programme, which is a much easier place to start off with but at the same time that can also make us stronger and we’re not totally at the whim of one person. It’s really a mixture of commercial funding, private funding, trying to learn from what teams have done well and what teams have struggled with.
"We’ll make mistakes but if we can avoid the major ones, I think probably 50 per cent of the challenge in this game is not making any serious, disastrous mistakes before you get to the start line."
With the next Cup unlikely to take place before 2017, Ainslie announced in January that his team will compete in this year's Extreme Sailing Series, a category which features smaller boats than the highly-sophisticated and rapid AC72s used last year in the America's Cup. The first event of the season will take place in Singapore between 20th and 23rd February.