Long live the World Sailing League

Published on September 25th, 2018

Both Paul Cayard and Russell Coutts had experienced the top of the sport, but within the rules and restrictions of the America’s Cup. They envisioned an even bigger spectacle, but on their terms, which led to the announcement in February 2007 of a new annual global sports series – the World Sailing League (WSL).

Beginning in 2009, 12 teams, representing nations, would compete in identical, state-of-the-art 70ft catamarans. Venues in the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, the Middle East, Asia, North America and South America. The series winner receiving a check for $2 million.

“We saw an opportunity to provide a better commercial event in the sport of sailing than what currently existed,” said Cayard. “The attributes we were aiming to improve on were continuity of the event, costs, and excitement. We planned to deliver spectacular sailing to the public through proximity, new formats, short races.”

Remember the WSL? No worries… it never happened.

“Unfortunately the promoter, Lagos Sports of Portugal (Joao Lagos, above), had a number of setbacks and was unable to fulfill his underwriting commitment to get the project started,” said Cayard in June 2009.

But while the WSL lacked the funding to go forward, the idea never died. With Coutts recruited by Larry Ellison in 2007 to guide his America’s Cup campaign, the WSL became the template for the 2013 edition in San Francisco. Fast boats, short races, public spectating.

But the only missing element to the plan was continuity. The America’s Cup was famous for its starts and stops, a detrimental attribute when seeking commercial and broadcast contracts. So in the lead-up to the 2017 contest, all teams but one had agreed to a future vision. The hold-out was the Kiwi team, and now that they control the event, does the WSL die? Maybe no.

A formal announcement is to come October 3, but it appears that the 15 meter AC Class catamarans used for the 2017 competition will get a second life in a new global sailing league being bankrolled by Ellison.

What can we anticipate? This comes from the 2007 WSL brochure:
• The WSL is the season long benchmark of excellence at every level from sponsor, spectator and team facility to TV, venues and courses.
• The boats are the fastest and some of the biggest ‘one design’ multihulls ever built.
• WSL’s combination of innovative boat design, race format and course location is designed to provide a coast hugging spectacle of easy to follow racing that can be watched by huge numbers of shore based spectators.
• WSL features the best race talent in sailing drawn from leading competitions worldwide, from Olympics to America’s Cup.
• WSL is set to visit some of the world’s most spectacular and glamorous coastal locations.

Long live the World Sailing League!

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