Jim O’Toole – Expanding the Tour

Published on November 29th, 2010

jim(November 29, 2010) The ISAF Match Racing World Championship, which is in its 22nd year and is now known as the World Match Racing Tour (WMRT), is in a period of expansion. The tour has announced they 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. The tour also wants to add events, and is currently reviewing upwards of 57 interested venues, with their goal to grow from nine events this year to fifteen in 2013.

The genesis of the tour in 1988 was to provide structure and branding to a collection of club events to grow an international professional match race series. The foundation of this model continues today, and while it is understood that current venues provide the fleet of boats used for their events, it came as a shock that the WMRT was looking for the additional venues to build a fleet of boats based on newly revealed boat specifications.

Scuttlebutt checked in with WMRT CEO Jim O’Toole concerning the expansion:

Among venues that want to join the tour – which include interest from the United States – a lot of them, according to O’Toole, are venues that need content. “We can provide them with the content, and not only for the five or six days that the tour event is there,” explains O’Toole. “We encourage them to focus on a business model where they can leverage their assets year round. They will have the facility, the race management, the equipment, the race boats, so it is not about using it all for only one week of the year, but rather to build a year round program of activities that will give the return on the investment.”

As to what kind of entities can host a tour event, the tour still includes club based events run by the members, but that might not be where the new events come from. “We already have several events that are solely run by professional management companies, and some are a hybrid combining clubs and professional event management companies,” notes O’Toole. “Part of the charm of the current tour is the variety of the events, and the unique and individual personality of the events. But we do see the world is changing, and how the profile of future venues will likely operate under a more event management template.”

Regarding the cost of for a new venue to host a tour event, O’Toole was not willing to declare a cost estimate, though he expects the list of prospects to get reduced as they learn what type of facility, equipment, personnel, etc. is needed to run a tour event. One prominent American yacht club puts the total budget, not counting the race boats, at upwards of $2.5 million.

logoWhile it was understood that venues supply the boats, building a new fleet seems to be an expensive detail. “It is not 100% prescribed that a venue has to buy new boats,” explains O’Toole. “If they have enough of any specific make of boat that is big enough (38 to 48 feet) and is right for match racing, than absolutely they can use it. We look at it from the perspective that if these new venues, which are looking at a blank sheet of paper and want to create an ideal event, our specification are what they should be using.

“The reason we cannot go to one make of boat is that we anticipate during the tour that each of the venues will serve up its own specific conditions that will require adaptable equipment. This is why created a range of boat specifications so venues could select equipment to adapt to their particular wind conditions. But what we do insist on is for all the boats to be for a minimum of five crew, and ideally five to six total crew.”

Concerning the suitability of the Swedish Match 40, which was created for the tour in 2003: “The SM 40 is still being used at the Portugal tour event, but the feeling now is that we have outgrown them. They remain a good boat for certain conditions, but they wouldn’t be the default solution going forward. The design brief details an ideal scenario, and it has grown from SM 40 to a range of designs more suitable for the new tour events.”

As for the RC 44 class, which seems to fulfill the tour’s design specs: “It would be perfect except for the materials used to construct it. We don’t think it is robust enough. Its construction is quite high tech with carbon fiber, etc, but this also makes it a bit too fragile for our application. But its design would otherwise make it ideal.”

The 2011 schedule has just been announced, but there remain venues that may still be added. “There were supposed to be ten events in 2010, but Qingdao was not as ready as we thought and had to be dropped from the schedule,” stated O’Toole. “At the moment we are working on little change if any for 2011, although a couple of potential venues are pushing quite hard to come on in 2011. They are quite enthusiastic, but we would only add them for next year if the conditions were perfect (ie, time of year, location within schedule, infrastructure, etc). The first dramatic change in terms of venues being added will be in 2012, with the expansion to be finalized by 2013.”

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