It goes without saying that when one of the world’s most prestigious newspapers, The Sunday Times, uses one of your photos on the front page of the Business Section to illustrate an article you can only be happy. As a result, we were delighted to see our photo of Tony Langley’s TP52 Gladiator having a prominent placement on the British newspaper two weeks ago. For any sailor or sailing fan, the photo per se has nothing extraordinary. It was shot the moment the British crew was preparing to tack in one of the beats of a race at the 2012 AUDI Valencia Cup. We were lucky enough on the photo boat to be right next to Gladiator’s layline and shot the sequence of the tack. The newspaper’s photo editor found one of the photos to be front page material, especially since Langley’s name and national flag were more than visible on the boom right over his head.
However, the scope of this piece isn’t to brag about our photos but to wonder what long-term effect this association of sailing with billionaires might have for the development of the sport. Does it reinforce the long-held view that sailing is an elitist sport? On the other hand, how could a sailing photo have such a prominent position in the business section otherwise? Not only that, Langley is a successful self-made businessman whose group employs 4,000 people worldwide and has an annual turnover of close to one billion euros. Will his photo entice other successful entrepreneurs to join the ranks of TP52 owners or of other similar classes?
Since its inception in 2007, the RC44 class has been about and for its boat owners. The TP52′s had a similar start and then went through a, disastrous, period of trying to be what they weren’t. Under Santa Monica Sport’s leadership, the Medcup pretended to be a popular event with mass appeal, something that couldn’t be further apart from reality. It survived a few years thanks to the easy money Spanish cities had access to and then collapsed when the tap was turned off. Did the monumental race villages and public areas bring more sponsors and teams? None whatsoever! The three founding owners of the 52 Super Series, Niklas Zennström, Alberto Roemmers and Doug DeVos, make it no secret that they want to build a circuit that caters to the owners.
On a smaller scale, the struggling Soto40 class is also composed solely of privately-owned boats, both in Europe and Latin America. At the other end of the sailing spectrum, the America’s Cup has reconfirmed its identity as a battleground for multi-billionaires and even in the Extreme Sailing Series, nearly half of the teams are either backed by a rich owner or bankrolled by a sultan.
So, the question is: Can high-level professional sailing exist without the wealthy owners? Will the sport of sailing in general benefit from the presence of more rich individuals or will it be hurt? If the 15 RC44′s and 10 TP52′s didn’t exist what would have filled the void? Is there really a truly commercially viable alternative? If yes, where is it?