The challenges and frustrations of selling the America’s Cup

Published on March 19th, 2015

Harvey Schiller, a veteran of the international sports industry, is the commercial commissioner of the 35th America’s Cup. This week he is in Miami at SPORTEL, a prominent business convention for the sports media industry, and sat down for an interview with SportsPro. Here is an excerpt…

As commercial commissioner, how closely are you working with the challenger teams and monitoring their progress?

First of all, as commercial commissioner I don’t care who wins. I told that to the teams – there will always be a winner but I can’t show favouritism to any team, my job is to enhance everything they do. It’s hard to measure the financial abilities of each team right now, but what has really surfaced more than anything since the last Cup is that the sponsors behind the team – not commercial sponsors, but the Larry Ellisons of the world and others – are reluctant to continue to fully-fund these operations. It’s becoming more and more dependent on commercial opportunities and in meeting with the teams across the board, they’re all very, very concerned about the costs associated with it. Our goal is to try and see what things we can do to keep a limit on costs. There’s a certain dynamic that occurs when you do that. There’s a history of a lot of spending, on design, on technical, on the boats. You have to step back and say ‘ok, what do we really need to do – we can’t just keeping throwing money on these things’. Hopefully we’ll all work together.

Here at Sportel, you often hear people talk of the balance to be struck between maximising the audience and revenues – how much of a factor is that for you as you begin to sell rights for the next Cup?

People that are here, representing different leagues or events, know that there’s going to be an event next time, so for them it’s important to get eyeballs to watch. With the America’s Cup, why does it matter? If you’re not going to have some continuity, why spend all the money on social media, digital offerings and marketing? Yes, you want your sponsors to get full value but television ratings really are an important part of next time. But if you don’t know when next time is, if you don’t know where the next venue is or anything about it you can’t sell those rights. That’s been the challenge. Sponsors themselves want the opportunity, I’m sure, to continue into the future; you can’t sell them anything until the next Cup starts. The race, last time, created the best momentum that any sport could ever ask for – it was on the front page of every newspaper, every digital offering in the world. Then the argument is, didn’t you lose that? Heck, yes we did. We started with a challenger of record, we had to go through the protocol, we had to find out who wanted to participate, then the challenger of record disappeared so we had to find another way of doing it, then we had to bring all the teams round a table – you lose a year.

Complete interview: click here

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