This is the second installment of our very interesting interview with Mark Turner, on the newly-announced deal with Land Rover and the overall state of affairs of the Extreme Sailing Series. The first part of the interview can be found here:
VSail.info: Russell Coutts and Stephen Barclay have recently talked about the prospect of the America’s Cup World Series becoming a fully-fledged annual circuit, even after this America’s Cup cycle. Do you see that as a direct competitor to the Extreme Sailing Series?
Mark Turner: You can’t imagine how many times I have been asked this question in the last three years. I genuinely think, and this is no PR thing, they are very complimentary. Without question, in the last three years they have been complimentary. The two things together have grown the sailing world, they have grown the number of people watching sailing, in different ways. The have grown the number of cities interested in hosting sailing events, they have grown the number of sponsors being aware of the sport and being aware of the most exciting form of the sport, from a non-sailor’s perspective. Has there been any real conflict? I cannot identify a single team, venue or sponsor issue which has been negative. I am not saying say it couldn’t happen but we have cities that talk to us because they looked at the Cup and couldn’t afford it or didn’t have the physical space or any other issue.
The America’s Cup definitely talked to places we talked to in the past and introduced to sailing and it was interesting for them to go forward or didn’t work very well for us any more or we have done our time there. There are teams we managed to keep alive for a bit longer because they couldn’t carry on in the Cup. There were teams such as Luna Rossa that ultimately are in the Cup after doing a year of Extreme Sailing Series. Of course you take a negative view and say they are taking the same audience but our audiences have to been 100 times bigger than our sailing world and the world is 1,000 bigger than the number of people that watch sailing. We still have so much to do to develop it. There is so much potential. We do an event in Singapore on a space of water where I think you can’t run an ACWS event, from a sporting perspective.
VSail.info: In what regards the Singapore event, I wasn’t myself present personally, but from the aerial photos published on your website the number of spectators seemed to be very small, even on a Saturday afternoon. Am I wrong?
Mark Turner: Singapore is a tough place without having a lot of money to spend. It is a tough place to get it going and it was the first time we did it in the city, right in the center of the city and we started late. We weren’t disappointed, we’d love to have more people and in the last day, we had people come and there was no wind. It wasn’t the most exciting kind of sailing to watch, there is no point pretending otherwise, but still, people came in and stayed, two or three races. they still stayed there and that was pretty encouraging. We didn’t do a lot of promotion either.
At the end of the day, how many public do you want in a place? It’s amazing if we could have crowds like Porto everywhere, 75-80 thousand people all around. That would be amazing. The fact is that every country is culturally different, there is competition for people’s time and we have to decide in each venue how much we are going to spend on the public side, the media side or the VIP side. There are lots of different aspects. Singapore is the most expensive venue for us by a long way, three times more expensive to run an event than Porto, and as a result, you can’t do everything. We had great hospitality, a great VIP event, very good media coverage with live TV in Singapore that was picked up in Oman. It was the very first time live TV in more than one country which for the small amount of budget we have is a good result. We don’t have the money to buy TV coverage in the US… It takes a bit longer to get there. So, we have to do things step by step.
VSail.info: The America’s Cup is selling tickets in San Francisco. Is this something you look into for your circuit? Do you think that longer term ticket-paying could be become the rule rather than the exception in sailing?
Mark Turner: I think it’s interesting to see they are doing it. I think it’s good to see they have done it. It’s a good test and I have been surprised by how successful it has been. We looked at it for our events last year, something similar to the Premium Economy airline levels, which is what the Cup is doing ultimately. You give someone an extra opportunity and you can still go and not have a ticket. I think sailing will always have to be like that, I can’t see anything other than the Olympics and even there it’s impossible to close down and ticket everything. Ultimately, we are already selling tickets in the form of hospitality.
VSail.info: But that would be the airline Business Class.
Mark Turner: Exactly and for sure there is an opportunity for Premium Economy although we don’t have the room, cost-wise, to try and test it with big grandstands but I think that at some stage we will be able to afford it. We actually own grandstands, or bleaches as they call it in the US, but to ship it around the world is 100 thousand euros for the entire year. It’s not that much money and at the end of the day it could pay itself with tickets. However, there are many risks you have to take and you have to choose which ones you take and 100 thousand euro risk on grandstands isn’t the right thing to spend it. But we have it, we own it and we will probably put it in the UK event and maybe do that with a Premium Economy type, with a ticket, a cap, a magazine and a drink. It’s interesting what the Cup is doing and we work with Nespresso, looking into what they are going to do in San Francisco. They will do some nice things and there are good things for us as well to learn. It is good the Cup is able to take some of those risks we are not able to do. They can afford to make mistakes more easily than we do.
To come back to your question whether the America’s Cup World Series is a competitor of ours if ti comes back with a full-year program for sure it will add more options for people, teams, sponsors or cities but I’m absolutely sure that the overall size will be bigger. Undoubtedly, there are places where everybody wants to do an event but as long as there is differentiation in the product there will be no problem. I think that there always be differentiation because the ACWS cannot exist without the the America’s Cup, it doesn’t work. Once you have the America’s Cup brand, the expectation level, what you have to deliver is of a size, cost and quality that once you get there you basically have a budget that is two, five or ten times bigger than the Extreme Sailing Series. Even twice, when we talk about commercial sponsors is a lot so there are a whole lot other companies that can get in the Extreme Sailing Series at an event or team level and a whole lot other companies that will actually only do the America’s Cup. There are brands that will never do anything other than the biggest and the most expensive and in the middle there are companies that could do either.
VSail.info: Let’s talk about the teams in your circuit. Will there be more in the near future?
Mark Turner: We don’t want more teams, eight teams is a really good number for us, eight plus the wild cards we have. I think that in Istanbul there will be nine or ten teams and in Cardiff ten teams because of the extra home-nation team. The problem is that when you aim at eight, like Knut Frostad at the Volvo Ocean Race, it’s not a big variation, just two boats, to get to just six. It’s quite challenging from that point of view. In the last three years we have had between four and six teams doing three-four years at least, and that’s a really good starting point. The best for us is that when a change happens, a team leaves and a new one enters, is that we increase the number of global premium brands, the SAP’s and Land Rovers of the world. That would be the only evolution we are looking for wile maintaining the sporting level. That’s a fundamental issue, we need very good sailors, wanting and fighting to win something that is worth winning.
I think we have that today and we haven’t lost it an any point. Sailors come and to, other events pull sailors to other places but there are lots of good sailors and lots of people that want to be in our event. There aren’t many places for professional sailors to make a name and their own project at an amount of money which sailors themselves go and find. there are very few options and I think we have quite a unique place in that aspect. There aren’t many project a sailor can use to do that.
If we increase the number of boats we can’t sail in a stadium and the most important thing in the whole concept is the stadium. When we sail in a place like Singapore we couldn’t do it with 12 boats if it’s windy. It would be impossible to do it with 12 boats and 15 knots of wind. We had the start line 300 meters from the shore and for us proximity is fundamental. It’s a big differentiation between ourselves and the Cup for a good reason. They both do what they need to do. Take for example Naples. Our event would have been pretty different. We do eight races a day, they last 15 minutes each and we would probably go no more than 300 meters from the beach. It’s different. The Cup comes with different politics, different restrictions, less flexibility. It’s all part of its nature. For the Cup, TV is now the priority while for the Extreme Sailing Series it isn’t. We don’t have the brand of the Cup, we don’t have their budget, so you can’t compare the events.
VSail.info: My final question concerns the boats you use in the circuit, the Extreme 40′s. Is there any thought of changing the boats? The IMOCA’s have announced changes, the Volvo Ocean Race is even more radical, are you considering making any changes?
Mark Turner: We look at it all the time, we need to look at it all the time. If there were a magical solution that would allow you to change boats without losing teams or investments you would probably do it. Actually, when we write the list of things we would like to change, it’s not very long and the boat is doing a really good job today. You can repair it easily, you can build it quickly, you can take it apart quickly, you can fit two in one container and reduce the shipping costs. The boat needs a relatively small support team, it works in 4 knots of wind, it works in 30 knots of wind, it works in sea waves, it works in flat water, it’s a pretty good boat.
It’s a ten-year old boat and like all things, you have thing ahead and change it at the right time. However, you have to make sure that when you change it you don’t kill what you already have. It’s a difficult balance between the two things and we aren’t desperate to change boats. When you look at many new boats you might think that some people would rather a 2014 design instead of a 2004 design but actually, the people that pay, the people that come to the events don’t know the difference. They don’t really know the difference. They barely know the difference between a monohull and a multihull.
If we were to add a capital expenditure of between 6 and 10 million euros required to change the boats that amount of cash needs to come from somewhere. In our scale of event, this is a huge amount of money and we are going to lose teams down the road. Some teams, most of the teams, are ran on a very tight budget and they would suddenly need an additional 600-800 thousand euros for a capital expenditure that isn’t going to bring more sponsorship deals. It’s not going to generate any extra revenue.