As the 2012 Monsoon Cup started today we caught up with the man in charge of running the ALPARI World Match Racing Tour and talked about its present, its future developments as well as the overall state of the sport of sailing:
VSail.info: A couple of years ago, the World Match Racing Tour presented an overly optimistic plan of having 15 events by 2013. The 2012 season is now coming to an end and we had just eight events this year. What is the current state of affairs of the Alpari World Match Racing Tour? Are you satisfied with how things turned out?
James Pleasence: I haven’t been involved for the last two years, I only joined recently, on August 1st of this year. Although I had been involved with the Tour since 2001, I only rejoined a few months ago. However, yes there were some objectives laid down a couple of years ago and I think it’s fair to say they were ambitious objectives in terms of increasing the number of events around the world, which is still very much one of our key objectives and missions of the Tour.
At the same time, in the last few years, the economic environment and the global financial crisis haven’t helped that process. They slowed it down. Funding from governments, tourism boards and even the private sector is evidently not as easy to find as it was before two years ago. Therefore, the rate of increase in the number of Tour events hasn’t been as fast as we would like to. However, we have a very strong Tour this year and we currently have some very advanced discussions with new events. I think that to be realistic, in 2013 we are likely to remain at the same number of events as this year and for 2014 I will add, certainly, two and, hopefully, more. Let’s not be too ambitious again. By 2013 I would like to see 10, possibly 11 events.
VSail.info: Does that mean that some of the current events could drop out and be replaced by new ones?
James Pleasence: An event dropping out can be done for many reasons. Portugal Match cup this year was unfortunately cancelled late in the day and that was due to a funding problem they had. Government funding of the event fell short of their requirement. As a result, the event had to be, unfortunately, cancelled and removed from the Tour schedule. In terms of the current events from this year we expect the calendar, although it’s not yet confirmed, to remain the same. However, from next year we will have a new event, the Dutch Match Cup, held in Lelystad, north of Amsterdam, in September. We are full steam ahead with Dutch Match Cup and the official announcement will be made shortly. That will make it nine events for 2013.
James Pleasance, executive director of the ALPARI World Match Racing Tour, presenting the Tour Trophy. Photo copyright Gareth Cook / Subzero Images – Monsoon Cup
VSail.info: Do you have a specific geographical focus or priority in the selection of new events?
James Pleasence: For us it is about finding existing events or promoters of events that are in suitable locations for the style of events we want to run for the Tour and not just geographical for the sake of filling the calendar or filling the map. At the same time, as you very well know, we are in the first year of a long-term partnership with our new title sponsor, Alpari, and we talk to them about certain markets and countries that are of interest to them. We do what we can to help align ourselves with some of their objectives, in terms of their key markets. They include South America and the Middle East.
In addition to that we are in discussions with groups in South Africa and Western Australia. Crucially, for next year, we are delighted to continue with Chicago Match Cup. We signed a long-term partnership with them that will help us build our presence. It was a hugely successful event last summer and it’s the only Tour event in the US at the moment. One of our key objectives is to grow the interest and appeal of the Tour in the US to the extent that I would like to have one or two additional events there, within the next few years.
VSail.info: Do you think there is a market or potential for three Tour events in the US?
James Pleasence: Realistically, having three events in the US would be a very good footprint. One on the east coast, another one on the west coast and a third one somewhere in the middle. There is a lot of interest in sailing on the west coast thanks to the America’s Cup. The America’s Cup is still a match race and we are the world match racing championship. If we align those interests and look at possible venues on the west coast I would like to do that. If you look at the history of the Tour, we had events on the west coast, the Allianz Cup in San Francisco. It took place in 2006 and was a hugely successful event.
VSail.info: You mentioned the interests of Alpari. I know it’s only the first year of your partnership but what is their feedback so far? Are they satisfied with what they have seen so far?
James Pleasence: They entered a long-term partnership with us and therefore their goals and objectives are not all to take place in the first year. They have a five-year strategy working with us. In terms of this year, it is about promoting the brand, educating, not only event spectators but the entire sailing community, what Alpari is. The Tour has been a fantastic platform to do that and that’s why you see the brand everywhere, from magazines, online and a considerable amount of TV coverage. It’s still too early to assess whether they achieve the full objectives of the partnership. As I said, the first year is about building and educating about the brand. As we move to the second and third year the focus will shift to converting that to leads and new business.
As we saw this year Tour has been very good to introduce Alpari to a whole new community. It’s the first time they are involved in sailing and as we know, the sailing industry is seen as affluent and wealthy and the people involved align with the profile of Alpari’s target clients.
Batavia Haven in Lelystad, the Netherlands will enter the Alpari World Match Racing Tour in 2013 by becoming the venue of the Dutch Match Cup
VSail.info: How much did Alpari pay for the title sponsorship of the Tour?
James Pleasence: It wouldn’t be right to share that information. Suffice to say that compared to other sailing properties we believe we have a very compelling and competitive proposition, not only to Alpari but all our sponsors.
VSail.info: Does Alpari’s sponsorship cover all your costs? Are you actively looking for more sponsors?
James Pleasence: It doesn’t cover our costs at all and we are actively looking for other sponsors, to enhance everything we are doing, be it marketing, media or TV coverage, where we are very strong. The Tour has a number of revenue streams which largely comes from sponsorship, the Tour card holders and the event sanction fees. Adding all that together allows us to operate the Tour and provide the benefits back to the events. We are always looking for more sponsorship, we have many things that we could do with additional funds. To give you an example, it would be to continue our broadcast live TV, not just stream it on the internet but on TV. We have invested significantly in that this year, it has been successful, it is something we would like to continue but it is expensive.
VSail.info: Not only is it expensive but it turns out that even the America’s Cup has to pay to go on prime TV.
James Pleasence: I think it’s no secret that sailing doesn’t generate the TV rights and income that Formula 1 and other major sports do. It all comes down to covering the production costs and other events have seen it as well. It’s not cheap.
VSail.info: Do you mean that if you could have better TV production you could achieve more mainstream TV coverage?
James Pleasence: Absolutely.
VSail.info: So, you claim that mainstream TV networks are willing to take more sailing.
James Pleasence: Definitely. If it’s produced well and if the story is told well, frankly I think that sailing is as good as any other sport. It has all the ingredients. The reason we don’t see sailing on television is that the sport has never had the budgets to produce it at that level. We invested significantly this year to increase our quality. We have seen a sharp increase in the number of broadcasters taking our live feed which we link by satellite, something not easy when you do live link from the boats.
We currently have 18 broadcasters that take our live feed, two hours per day during the last two days of each event. That’s four hours of live coverage and for any network to take two continuous hours of live sailing is fantastic. Parallel to that we are streaming to the internet through the Livestream platform, the same one the Volvo Ocean Race uses. In addition to the live coverage, after each of the events we produce a 26-minute and a 47-minute post-edited highlight show and distribute them to 38-40 broadcasters worldwide. Some of them play the shows up to five times and that includes the likes of Sky Sports which is perhaps the best known.
We believe that television is key in order to promote sailing to a broad fan base. Coupled with that of course is the value it gives back to the sponsors but also to each of the events. Each of the events of the Tour will then have the value of this combined coverage because only we can do these deals with broadcasters to take a series of 8, 9 or 10 shows and put them all together rather than single events. All of the events are therefore benefiting from being part of the Tour and the TV agreements we are able to put in place. I would love to see the day where broadcasters pay fees for our television. I know it happened in the past with the America’s Cup.
Alpari foray into sailing expanded with the sponsorship of Adam Minoprio’s team. Kuala Terengganu, 3 December 2012. Photo copyright Pierre Orphanidis / VSail.info
VSail.info: in that same presentation a couple of years ago, the Tour showed the specs of a proposed new bigger yacht the new venues would have to use starting 2013. Is that something that is still valid? What is the current situation with the proposed new boats?
James Pleasence: A couple of years ago, the Tour commissioned a number of designers to create designs for new Tour boats. The goal was to let new events to be able to select one of these designs which were pre-approved by the Tour. However, in much the same way as it happened with the number of new events, the economic environment made it difficult for existing and new events to finance that level of new boats. Therefore, we relaxed the requirements of events to have a new custom fleet of boats, however we encourage them as much as possible to do that, finance them in three to five years coupled with sailing academies. There is a whole business in buying and owning a fleet of boats. Unfortunately, for 2013 we won’t be seeing the new boats but hopefully, I’d like to see them in the future.
VSail.info: You previously mentioned the Tour card holders as one of your revenue streams. I have to admit that at times it’s difficult to understand the logic behind the scoring system and the process of allocating events to each skipper? Do you plan to simplify that?
James Pleasence: Absolutely, starting from next year. We plan to simplify the process. We issue a certain number of Tour card holders which reflects the number of invitations at events that the Tour controls. Out of the 12 invitations in each event, the Tour controls eight of them, two come from the qualifying events and the remaining two are wildcards. These are given to the events so that they can attract local teams, for example Jeremy Koo in this event.
The Tour card holder system allows consistency for the sponsored teams because their sponsors are also looking for consistency. Starting next year we will simplify the process and we will give Tour card holders the possibility to sail in all events, if they want, but only only a certain amount of them will count. Currently, they count their best four results plus the Monsoon Cup. As the number of events increase, the number of Tour card holder will also increase as will the number of events that count towards the overall ranking. However, there is a strict procedure regarding the skippers we invite. It’s not a free for all, it is related to the ISAF Match Racing rankings. You just can’t pay money and buy your way into the World Match Racing Tour. It’s not about the money, it’s about qualifying to be invited to have a card. It’s aligned with the ISAF rankings because the winner of this Tour will be crowned the ISAF World Match Racing Champion. You just can’t give it to the highest bidder.
We are a commercially-run series and we want to build the athletes, the sailors, their profiles and help build their careers, especially the young skippers. We used to have Dean Barker, Russell Coutts, Ed Baird or Peter Holmberg who were regular in the Tour. They have gone off to greater things or even retired and we now see this new breed of match racers. They are less known in the community but when James Spithill first started in the Tour very few people knew who he was.
VSail.info: This remarks brings me exactly to the last question I wanted to ask. Historically, until 2008, the World Match Racing Tour was the obvious training camp for America’s Cup sailors and the springboard for young aspiring sailors that wanted to get to the America’s Cup. That’s why the skippers you mentioned, Ed Baird, James Spithill, Dean Barker, the top America’s Cup skippers were all racing in 2005 and 2006. Currently, none of the America’s Cup skippers is taking part in the Tour. Do you feel the move to multihulls has relegated the Tour to a second-division status?
James Pleasence: No, it hasn’t relegated the Tour a lesser status. I have always said that to win the America’s Cup you first have to win the Tour. The World Match Racing Tour has always been a monohull match racing series and it was a natural progression to the America’s Cup which was in monohulls. However, when the decision was made for the America’s Cup to turn to multihulls many of these sailors had to go and learn a totally new form of sailing. This is why we haven’t seen them sailing here. However, unless there is a significant change to the rules, the America’s Cup is a match racing event. To be the best match racer in the world requires sailing skills but also the strategy and the tactics in match racing. The Alpari World Match Racing Tour is still the best series where to hone those skills whether you then match race on one or two hulls. We don’t have any plans to change to a multihull series because there are other multihull series that exist and the heritage and history of the World Match Racing tour has always been with monohulls.
At the end of the day, who knows what will happen with the America’s Cup a year from now? It might go back to one hull, who knows? We can’t change every time the America’s Cup changes and I think the Tour is as important now as it has always been!