Season 4 kicks off with the Rolex United States Sail Grand Prix | Chicago at Navy Pier this weekend. Ahead of the event, SailGP CEO Russell Coutts reveals his behind-the-scenes insight of the league and the fleet.
Season 4 opening battle in Chicago is just days away. Season 4 marks SailGP’s best calendar yet, with 12-events and five new iconic cities. The one I’m most excited about is New York. The infrastructure and facilities for the stadium will be on Governors Island away from the skyscrapers, which means the wind will be less disturbed and the fans will be even closer to the action.
The event in the UAE is another one that will bring fans within touching distance of the racing action while Auckland later in the season will be a milestone event - we’re taking somewhat of a risk by staging the event in a fairly narrow part of the channel. If the breeze goes across the channel it will be very challenging for the teams. We may even consider changing the format for that event - stay tuned! But I’m confident Aucklanders will get behind the event and the location means people will be able to watch up-close from the shore making the event more accessible to more people.
We have four events in the U.S. which is obviously an important market for SailGP and almost all of our partners. We’ve had great broadcast results there, but that’s just an indication of what can be achieved. Our broadcast presence in the UK has also taken a significant step up, with ITV picking up the free-to-air broadcast rights. That’s really positive news and is sure to supercharge our audience figures there. We’ve also extended our partnership with CANAL+ for the next five seasons and are preparing to announce exciting developments in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand - which proves SailGP is an attractive property for broadcasters and is now one of the fastest growing new sports properties.
Elsewhere, we’ve announced Germany as the latest nation to join the league. If we could have chosen a country to partner with next, it would have been Germany. The impact of F1 champion Sebastian Vettel being involved with that team is enormous and will support our growth with racing fans. We’re making great in-roads with that audience and there are several exciting prospective venues for staging an event in Germany, hopefully in Season 5.
As we head into Season 4, the competitiveness of the league is at an all time high - with six teams having won past events and all teams (apart from Germany) winning at least one race. It’s amazing to have that spread of competitiveness throughout the fleet and the competition is only going to get tighter. We’ve got the best sailors in the world racing in this league, with the exception of Nathan Outteridge and Dylan Fletcher. I’d love to get either of them back behind the wheel driving a boat again - they are obviously super talented and it would be great to see at least one of them back in our line-up.
Elsewhere, the biggest challenge facing the established teams like Australia, New Zealand and Emirates GBR in the future might be keeping their teams together. I know there was a play for Australian wing trimmer Kyle Langford and he almost went to another team. As private teams develop, the competition for key athletes will only become stronger and I expect to see more of that in the future. Every team can have one non-national in their team (new teams can have three) and like any sport, key athletes have a significant impact on their performance. I believe that’s a good thing for professional sailing where competitive tension develops in the market for the very top athletes.
As the league matures, teams are also going to have to work hard to bring up their next generation of athletes. That hasn’t really been a focus in sailing to date, but as SailGP introduces more events and increases the prize money (which is currently $4.6M), the stakes will become higher. Teams will need to initiate talent development programs to ensure they have back up athletes and nurture new talent for the future.
With Chicago just days away, teams are preparing to race in the first showdown of Season 4. The big question is will any of these teams be able to break the dominance of the Australians? Let the battle commence!
The Rolex United States Sail Grand Prix | Chicago at Navy Pier will take place on June 16 & 17, with racing kicking off at 16:00 CDT. Full broadcast information and How To Watch details are HERE.