“The intention is that each team will eventually be independently owned” | Russell Coutts, SailGP

  • Six current SailGP teams are centrally owned and financed
  • Plans for each team to be sold to external investors once they have built commercial profiles
  • Rolex, Oracle and Land Rover are founding partners

SailGP, the nation-versus-nation sailing league pioneered by Kiwi yachtsman Sir Russell Coutts and Oracle founder and chief executive Larry Ellison, made a somewhat curtailed British debut during Cowes week earlier this August.

Severe weather forced the organisers of the new event to compress the action into as single day of racing. The oppressive conditions weren’t entirely detrimental to the action, however, as the Australia SailGP Team managed to register some of the fastest speeds ever achieved in competitive racing, breaking the 50-knot barrier in competition for the first time.

Coutts spoke to SportBusiness after the event to discuss the commercial model for the new competition.

How many teams have participated in the inaugural season? 

We’re a nation-versus-nation competition, with teams for the 2019 season representing Australia, China, France, Great Britain, Japan and the United States. Rivalries are being formed, and the national pride element is very strong for our athletes and fans. With a country flag on the wingsail, there is ultimately more on the line.

We plan to add one additional team per season. For 2020, we have an incredible amount of interest from other countries to join SailGP, and plan to bring our fleet to seven. Ultimately, we plan to have 10 teams and at least 10 venues.

How does the team model work? Do teams have to purchase the right to participate in races from SailGP, or are the teams all centrally run?

While all of the six current SailGP teams are initially financed and owned centrally, the intention is that each team will eventually be independently owned. As additional teams are added in future seasons, they will be required to secure their own funding via partnerships and will not be underwritten centrally. The six initial teams will be sold to external investors once they have built their commercial profiles over a five-year period.

How have you marketed the event, and what will be different about it to other sailing events?

While we absolutely want to attract and engage the core sailing community, ultimately, this is about creating mass appeal and reaching untapped audiences. We are therefore packaging and broadcasting our events and short-form content in a completely different way to all other sailing properties. When people view a SailGP event, we want them to leave with a different impression than what they may have previously imagined sailing could be. We are progressing toward being more focused as a media and entertainment company, rather than event management. We are therefore driven by content and storytelling, and pushing our athletes, national teams and technology to the forefront.

Spectators look on during the Cowes SailGP in August (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images).

How many other events are now scheduled?

We’ve had four very successful events this season – Sydney, San Francisco, New York and Cowes – taking this new global sports property to iconic venues, exposing new audiences to sailing and building a fanbase. We meet again one final time this season on September 20-22 in Marseille, France, where we’ll award the SailGP championship trophy. It will all come down to one final match-race between the top-two teams: fifteen minutes for US$1 million. It’s the biggest prize in sailing, and the pressure is building for our teams to earn a spot in that finale.

The season two schedule is shaping up well, with a lot of interest from new cities and teams. Our plan is to return to the majority of the 2019 venues, while adding up to two new locations. Announcements regarding the first events of the 2020 season are expected next month, with the remainder of the schedule released before the end of this year.

How are you packaging SailGP sponsorship rights? Is all sponsorship run centrally, or are there separate team and central/event sponsorship packages?

Sponsorship rights are managed centrally. From a commercial standpoint, we offer many options for potential partners: globally for SailGP, and for each team and event. Because we’re a new property, we have greater flexibility to customize packages to best fit the business objectives of our partners.

Further, we own all of our assets – including the six current teams – which is very unique for a sports property. It means that brands have the opportunity to gain exclusive rights across the league and all teams – essentially unprecedented in most professional sports.

How successful have you been in attracting interest from sponsors?

In SailGP’s inaugural season, we have three incredible founding partners: Rolex, Oracle and Land Rover. Those three iconic global brands put trust in us before we had even staged an event, and their feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. We’ve been able to shape our future together with little risk due to secured funding, creating truly bespoke partnerships that strongly benefit both parties.

Now that we have staged a number of events and people are seeing the quality of what is being delivered, we are in very active conversations with a number of other entities. We expect to have further partnership announcements before the end of this year.

In terms of our salesforce, we recently added heads of sales in the US, Europe and Asia/Pacific to work with our global commercial team, and we are focused on forging additional partnerships for both teams and events. We’re encouraged by the response we have had to the events so far, which has given us reassurance that there is strong interest for the sporting product we have put in place.

How successful have you been in securing media partners?

We have extensive global broadcast distribution on both linear and OTT platforms, including broadcast agreements that ensure coverage in 90 countries, across five continents. In many countries – including the United States – we’ve negotiated non-exclusive arrangements such that we can simultaneously live stream on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and the SailGP app.

Are you offering your media rights for free to begin with to generate maximum exposure?

Our media rights vary by territory, with a primary objective of making SailGP as widely accessible as possible. Our content is currently available around the globe, either via our extensive broadcast partnerships or owned digital platforms. For season two, we are placing even greater emphasis on free-to-air coverage – whether linear or OTT – especially in our critical team markets.

How else will you gain the maximum exposure for the events?

We are delivering a broadcast and digital product that caters to modern consumption habits and brings our sport to life in a way that hasn’t been done before via innovative on-screen graphics and immersive data.

Further to broadcast, we’ve been focused on developing strong editorial media relations and building a network of SailGP fans across online and print media. By the nature of what we’re offering, we’re not short on new, cutting-edge content and stories. SailGP is deconstructing outdated views on sailing and creating marketable heroes of our athletes.

We’ve also engaged regional media partners around each of our events to amplify content and coverage and will be further pushing into that space in 2020.

We see from your website that you are producing team-related merchandising. What is the strategy with these products? How will fans be able to purchase them?  

Merchandising is key to any successful sports property. We currently offer branded product online for the league and each team, plus we offer on-site fan shops at each of our events. Ultimately, it’s about growing our fanbase and awareness for SailGP, and we expect significant growth in this area as we move forward.

Merchandising may also represent an opportunity to promote our sustainability objectives and healthy ocean initiatives as there are a number of companies that are currently investing in and developing new products using recycled materials, including plastics.

Most recent

Liberty Media’s major investment into Formula 1's digital media operations has demonstrated its value during sport’s global lockdown, believes Frank Arthofer, the series’ global head of digital media and licensing.

What previously were just MLB practice sessions unseen by fans have become an important source of content for clubs and their regional sports networks, and have helped broadcast production crews prepare for the regular season

Abu Dhabi is using UFC's 'Fight Island' as a pilot project to determine if it can expand the event's 'safety bubble' model to include spectators. SportBusiness speaks to Ali Hassan Al Shaiba, executive director of tourism and marketing for the city's Department of Culture and Tourism.

Tom King looks at how China is getting its sporting calendar back on track, and how the global health crisis has affected some of the weaker industry players in the country.