Last updated: October 6, 2011 3:30 pm

Extreme mission to pull in new partners

The sailing circuit revolutionising the sport is seeking partners to fund its own evolution

Parade of sail: Ben Ainslie skippering an Extreme 40 catamaran for Oman Air crosses the race start off Nice at the weekend

The Extreme 40 series, the Formula 1 stadium-style catamaran racing circuit that has set a benchmark for sailing competition worldwide in under five years, is seeking partners to build on its successful business model.

Mark Turner, executive chairman of series organisers OC ThirdPole, based in Cowes, Isle of Wight, told the FT: “We had three good years with iShares as title sponsors but now we work with a very different budget model. Revenue has grown from host cities previously contributing a third. We are now using funds from investors, entry fees, merchandising, the rights to the class and boat-building while the team funding is separate.

“With iShares it was purely a business to business event, with our more mature brand and investors, we invested a lot in the public TV side to make a big step up this year with more live broadcasts. With the event costing €8m a year to run overall, we are looking for two main partners with €2m each to invest.

“The kind of company this works best for is one that likes ownership of an event, a product that is flexible, unlike premiership football. It’s the perfect place to build a sporting campaign. These boats are robust, ship in containers – two in one now – to keep costs down and they can one day develop with wings and foils, making the spot sexier, at the centre of multihull development.

“In our 2012 budgeting and planning its more evolution than revolution. We are looking to take a step further in entertainment next year. In sponsorship there is much less being spent in all sports but we have a mature discipline now and are now drawing in teams from Asia and the south-east Asia. While lots of companies are frozen in the headlights of the recession, we are adding business from other countries and stuck between the two phases of evolution.

“We have attracted ports and cities to invest as well as maverick, rule-breaking consumer brands such as renewable energy groups with a class that absolutely appeals to sailing fans, both a wealthy audience of boat owners, VIPs and Joe Bloggs who loves to watch stadium sailing.”

Gilles Chiorri, sailing event director, said: “We have to consider the public ashore, the unique guest experience we offer and the purity of the sport, getting these three things in balance.

“Our top priority is to get a proper deal with one or two main sponsors building on our sound investment base. Our business model is self-financing with fees from cities, partly sponsorship from brands and the entry fees from the 11 teams. We have not yet reached breakeven point but are working with all stakeholders to get there.”

Dean Barker, skipper of Emirates Team New Zealand since 2001 with its formidable recent Audi MedCup record, said: “We are currently running these two events, the Extreme 40 series and the America’s Cup World Series. In Plymouth for the worlds we saw a huge number of spectators, and it is fantastic to see the investment by Oracle in television and event production paying off.

“The combination of these makes the sailing itself more appealing to the general public. In this the Extreme 40 series has led the way, pointing the way for the World Cup and, like the Extreme 40 organisers, making a lot of effort to put on a show.

Barker added: “The people making the decisions about the America’s Cup have a vision – and we have to embrace that. For Emirates Team New Zealand, we are going all out to win the America’s Cup and our multihull teams are very excited at being forced to find the edge or even push the boundaries of what is possible in these super-fast catamarans. It is so different to be match-racing with two-minute reaching starts on these tight circuits.”

Paul Campbell-Jones, one of the world-class sailors who competed first in the series for Oman Sail, switching to helm Italy’s Luna Rossa, backed by Patrizio Bertelli, chief executive of Prada, said: “I couldn’t watch the previous [monohull] full America’s Cup race…it was boring after the start. In this we have capsizes, collisions, close calls and crew errors, all of which is awesome to watch and on the edge for the sailors, which is what we live for.

“These catamarans can do extreme stuff even in little wind, say of just 5 knots. Winning these races is not, as the sceptics used to say, pot luck, but the consistently best guys come top whatever the racing is like.”

Pete Cumming, 32, a former Extreme 40 skipper who is currently trimming for the AC45 challenger GreenCom from Spain, said: “The AC45s are just one step on from the Extreme 40s, which is the perfect feeder series.

“The AC45 always wants max and immediate power, right from the start, there is no sheet easing on, with the wing-sail it goes from full power to full power for each manoeuvre. The loads on the wing are not that much as it is so efficient. The AC45’s asymmetric foil gets a lot of lift, with its runners and dagger boards, it is like the 40’s boat speed but its handling is a key factor over speed.

“You have to have five guys working perfectly to get round the course. Jimmy Spithill and Dean Barker are the benchmark and with on-board cameras its moving the sport into the mainstream, making it more crash and burn, and its improving us as sailors as we have to deal with stuff much faster, making us much fitter and more athletic.

“I’ve lost 7kg and since the first event have lived in the gym, learning to be fit and strong at the new weight. As the boats become more physical there are rewards in putting in more training, particularly as there is still a massive mountain to climb in the AC45. But just like the Extreme 40 where our goal was to win, we put the right people round us and we win. If we surround ourselves with the right people and equipment, with luck and skill we can do it again. Some days its better to be lucky than good, that’s what makes or sport special.

“With the new cup technology and the right people advances will filter down from this highest level to develop the sport. As sailing becomes more professional the different disciplines allow for all levels of racing to survive and thrive.

“In the new 45s you have to work hard to keep your spot, just like a professional footballer, in the squad and if you are not performing you are subbed out. I’m expecting some 148 days of action next year.

“One of the sailors I have the greatest of respect for is Chris Draper, now with the Korean team. I was privileged to sail with him for the Omanis. He’s absolutely thorough, very technical and is aiming to work the Korean team into one of the big four.

“It is a testament to Mark [Turner] that so many former Extreme 40 skippers are moving through into the AC45 squads. If it can work with the new World Cup series it will be a great feeder and do multihull sailing a lot of good.”

Chief umpire Ewan McEwan, who leads a team of 14 in his umpiring squad, said: “Our task is to keep racing within the rules, considering fairness, setting the courses and safety. We allow the organisers to take their racing to the extreme, not in a stupid but in a calculated way.

“Our role is to support sailors who sail by the rules. We provide dynamic decisions based on speed and distance and have built a call book, a case history of all the decisions taken and challenged over the history of the series. Our work also includes supervising speed trials, or duels as we call them, like the America’s Cup half kilometre run.”

Cyril Dardashti, manager of Groupe Edmond de Rothschild, said: “Its becoming more clear to our English competitors, who 10 years ago said the French were just playing with their multihulls, being silly French sailors, that they are having to change their view now you see Ben Ainslie enjoying it. It is his and our future and we must get used to this new culture of multihull competition.”

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