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SailGP: It seems to make sense

Published on October 10th, 2018

The #1 media market in the United States was where newly launched SailGP would further reveal details of how it planned to “redefine sailing with a thrilling new fan-centric grand prix racing circuit.” New Yorker and Scuttlebutt contributor Cory E. Friedman was there too and shares his impressions:

New York, NY (October 10, 2018) – So you want to turn pro sailing into a normal pro sport like baseball, football (NA), football (World), basketball, hockey…you name it. You know, with teams that make money in a stable league that can stand on its own two feet. Start with a clean sheet of checks backed by a big balance.

Build a 90 foot Dead of Gift behemoth and win the America’s Cup Match. Defend the Cup once and then create a 50 foot class of foiling catamarans and run a made-for-television event in Bermuda. Pump a lot of money into teams that are not self-supporting and talk them into a “framework” to repeat in a couple of years so that with continuity the teams might become self-supporting. Oops. After spending a ton of money, the one outlying “lone wolf” which refused to sign up for the framework wins in 2017 and now you are back to square one – minus a pile of cash.

What’s a sailor to do? Larry Ellison and Russell Coutts could have run another America’s Cup campaign but decided to try something different. This is it: SailGP. They’ve got the 50 foot class boats and another clean sheet of checks. Forget about class rules, protocols, and a whole lot of rich cooks giving advice.

Modify the boats so they are essentially one design. Round up a bunch of talented, young, low-priced performance sailors and form national teams so that the fans can root for their country, rather than a bunch of multi-national ringers, and set them racing against each other in high speed close to shore stadium-style sailing for cash on the barrelhead in a worldwide series.

Most important, keep control, but keep everything fairly loose so that the series and boats will be works in progress rather than a rigid format. Run that up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes.

Today the flagpole it was run up was a New York Water Taxi boat driving around the planned race course with a pretty relaxed CEO Russell Coutts and the USA team on board. I got plenty of time with Russell to get a feel for the plan. It seems to make sense.

Is this another front in the Coutts/Dalton wars? Perhaps, but perhaps not. There’s enough ocean for both of them, because this concept and America’s Cup aren’t really that similar.

The AC always has been and always will be a rich man’s (women seem to have too much good sense for this game) design competition vanity match. The faster boat wins. Every winner gets to start from scratch to embody his “vision” (hallucination?).

While Larry must and presumably will finance SailGP for a few years, the whole point is to produce a continuing league like any other sports league in which each team can develop sponsors, fans, and continuity.

New York is a tough nut to crack. To succeed in New York this league has to be entertaining and there is a lot of entertainment competition in New York. New York harbor is a busy place, so the race course is limited. The America’s Cup World Series event in New York was a dud. Cold, damp, and terrible light crap shoot wind with lots of knots of tide.

The race course for SailGP is fairly similar to ACWS – sharply constrained by the width of the lower Hudson River and surrounded by buildings that can produce more pretty fluky winds, but with less expected tide. However, this event has the advantage of being in late June. That may make all the difference.

When a couple of hot sunny days heat up a couple of billion cubic yards of New York concrete and masonry, New York develops a strong afternoon sea breeze. Indeed the spit of land across from Sandy Hook at the entrance to the Lower Bay is Breezy Point, Queens, New York. A decent sea breeze would make this a pretty exciting event.

New York has the advantage of being the third event – after Sydney and San Francisco – so a lot of the kinks should be worked out before SailGP gets here. Relax and ease up on getting every possible nickel out of spectators. For example, there needs to be a simple free app to allow spectators on land around the harbor to know the basics like what the course is and when the race will start, has started and is finished.

Stay tuned, this could be a pretty entertaining event.

Cory (blue vest) with Russell Coutts (left) and the USA Team (from left): Rome Kirby, Riley Gibbs, Dan Morris Hans Henken, and Mac Agnese.

© 2018 Cory E. Friedman

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