Sponsorship struggles for SailGP leader

Published on January 10th, 2023

When the SailGP global sports league got launched, it was a fully funded concept to create spectator-friendly racing in identical wing-powered, foiling F50 catamarans. But the support from billionaire Larry Ellison, and management from Russell Coutts, had conditions.

The prominent condition was that from the first season in 2019, the teams needed to be commercially sustainable by the end of the fifth year. While it is not clear if the pandemic has stretched this deadline beyond 2023, the reality remains that about half the teams have made that threshold.

As league promotion highlights its roster of the world’s best sailors, the league is finding that sheer talent does not translate to economic security. This hit home when the Season 2 runner-up Japan was removed from Season 3 when an entry for a new fully-funded team was accepted, and a new boat could not be built in time.

Also feeling the heat is Tom Slingsby, Driver and CEO of the Australia SailGP Team, who has failed to secure any major sponsorship deals which could put the two-time defending champion on the chopping block.

SailGP has “progressed a lot quicker than we expected,” he said, resulting in a glut of perspective, commercially independent teams approaching the league. “SailGP can’t build boats fast enough.

“I know the rules, Nathan (Japan skipper Nathan Outteridge) knew the rules – we all do,” he said. “We’re all under pressure […] Nathan unfortunately was the first one to succumb to that pressure.”

While the league promotes its viewership growth and expanding roster of teams and events, if sponsors are not seeing value in supporting the best teams, is the future of SailGP on the chopping block too?

“I can’t tell you how many thousands of hours I’ve spent trying to get sponsorship and I haven’t been able to do it yet,” said Slingsby, adding that his efforts have resulted in ‘some small sponsors’ but ‘nothing major’.

“It’s extra frustrating because we’re getting such good results on the water and you wonder who wouldn’t want to be associated with the team that’s never had any scandals, never had any bad press – we go out there, we represent our country with honor, we’re good people, we’ve got great personalities on the team – why can’t we get sponsors?”

Australia SailGP Team is dominating Season 3, sitting top of the overall championship leaderboard with five podium finishes in the seven events held.

Slingsby’s fate has gained some security when the New South Wales government signed on as the official host venue partner of the Australia Sail Grand Prix in a three season deal.

“Fortunately for us Russell [Coutts] is viewing the Australian event and team as one, and the money that comes in as total, not separate,” said Slingsby, adding that his fate does still rely on an ownership group to buy the team or bring in some serious sponsorship dollars.

“We’ve got a lot of talks going on and a lot of great discussions with some companies,” he said. “We just need some to drop and the future of the Australia SailGP Team will be sealed.”

SailGP informationSeason 3 scoreboardYouTubeHow to watch

Season Three Standings (after seven of 11 events)
1. Australia (Tom Slingsby), 60 points
2. New Zealand (Peter Burling), 51 points
3. France (Quintin Delapierre), 50 points
4. Great Britain (Ben Ainslie), 48 points
5. Denmark (Nicolai Sehested), 42 points
6. Canada (Phil Robertson), 40 points
7. United States (Jimmy Spithill), 39 points
8. Spain (Jordi Xammar), 22 points
9. Switzerland (Sebastien Schneiter), 16 points

2022-23 SailGP Season 3 Schedule
May 14-15, 2022 – Bermuda Sail Grand Prix presented by Hamilton Princess
June 18-19, 2022 – United States Sail Grand Prix | Chicago at Navy Pier
July 30-31, 2022 – Great Britain Sail Grand Prix | Plymouth
August 19-20, 2022 – ROCKWOOL Denmark Sail Grand Prix | Copenhagen
September 10-11, 2022 – France Sail Grand Prix | Saint-Tropez
September 24-25, 2022 – Spain Sail Grand Prix | Andalucía – Cádiz
November 12-13, 2022 – Dubai Sail Grand Prix presented by P&O Marinas
January 13-14, 2023 – Singapore Sail Grand Prix
February 17-18, 2023 – Australia Sail Grand Prix | Sydney
March 17-18, 2023 – New Zealand Sail Grand Prix | Christchurch
May 6-7, 2023 – United States Sail Grand Prix | San Francisco (Season 3 Grand Final)

Format for 2022-23 SailGP events:
• Teams compete in identical F50 catamarans.
• Each event runs across two days.
• There are three qualifying races each day for all nine teams.*
• The top three teams from qualifying advance to a final race to be crowned event champion and earn the largest share of the $300,000 prize money to be split among the top three teams.
• The season ends with the Grand Final, which includes the Championship Final Race – a winner-takes-all match race for the $1m prize.
* Qualifying schedule increased from five to six races at France SailGP.

For competition documents, click here.

Established in 2018, SailGP seeks to be an annual, global sports league featuring fan-centric inshore racing in some of the iconic harbors around the globe. Rival national teams compete in identical F50 catamarans for event prize money as the season culminates with a $1 million winner-takes-all match race.

Source: SailGP, Scuttlebutt

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