Whether it’s due to the crushing financial crisis in Spain or because sailing isn’t as attractive as other sports, or a combination of both, the fact is that Iberdrola, one of the world’s biggest utilities groups, decided to pull out from practically all sailing sponsorship, except from the Spanish Paralympic team, whose funding is done through a not-for-profit foundation.
Although there hasn’t been any official announcement from Iberdrola, Spain’s top sailing journalist, Jaume Soler, reported yesterday that Agustín Zulueta, up to now head of all grand-prix sailing activities related to Iberdrola, is actively looking for a sponsor that would allow him to continue his Soto40 campaign in 2013 and if that fails, try to sell the boat for 250,000 euros.
Iberdrola got into sailing sponsorship in 2004 with Desafío Español, whose total budget for the 2004-7 America’s Cup was allegedly 60 million euros. Under the leadership of Agustín Zulueta, the team achieved Spain’s best result ever, reaching the Louis Vuitton Cup semifinals. Desafío Español bowed out of the 32nd America’s Cup with a very respectable defeat by Emirates Team New Zealand, 5 to 2.
Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for Desafío Español to fall from their glory heights to the darkest abyss of sailing thanks to their association with Ernesto Bertarelli’s malicious bedfellows in the Spanish Sailing Federation, Gerardo Pombo and Manuel Chirivella. Iberdrola backed the creation of Club Náutico Español de Vela, a fictitious yacht club that challenged Alinghi for the 33rd America’s Cup and the rest is history.
As the America’s Cup legal battle dragged on and it became obvious the 33rd edition would be a two-boat race, Iberdrola maintained its funding of Agustín Zulueta’s grand-prix sailing projects but at a steadily-dwindling rate. Iberdrola Team started the 2007 summer with a TP52 and a GP42 racing in the AUDI Medcup circuit and finished the 2012 season with a Soto40. That Argentinean-designed and built one-design boat failed to live up to its promise and the European fleet never took off, struggling hard to line up more than 6-8 boats.
Despite the fact Iberdrola, through Scottish Power, is the biggest utilities company on the US East Coast, the 34th America’s Cup never appealed despite Zulueta’s sales pitch and, more importantly, a venue in California. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that exactly three years ago, in November 2009, Iberdrola became the main sponsor of Spain’s national football (soccer) team. That decision proved to be more than successful! Spain went on to win the World Championship in 2010 and the European Championship in 2012. The financial details of the deal haven’t been disclosed but I can’t see, from a sponsorship point of view, what result in sailing could match being the world’s best team in the world’s most popular sport!
It’s a sad moment for the sport of sailing, not only in Spain but throughout the Mediterranean where sponsorship in sailing has all but vanished.