Extreme Sailing Series looks to ride wave of major sports events
By Simon Ward
The Extreme Sailing Series, the international ‘stadium racing’ circuit, will not be visiting the Far East this year, but it is returning to Russia, and has plans to reconnect with Asia-Pacific at the start of 2019, as part of efforts to capitalise on the presence of global sports events.
OC Sport, the UK-based events company that organises the series, announced the venues for the 12th season this week, and has opted for a mix of established hosts such as Muscat in Oman and Cardiff in the UK, and more recent additions such as San Diego in USA and Los Cabos in Mexico.
The eight stops also include the GC32 World Championship at Lake Garda in Italy in May, the first world-level event for the class of boats introduced in the Extreme Sailing Series in 2016, and which was recognised by World Sailing last year.
Qingdao in China, the host of the 2008 Olympic Games sailing competitions and a feature of the Extreme Sailing Series since 2011, is absent this year, as is Sydney in Australia, a fixture from 2014 to 2016, but there is a deliberate strategy to focus on Europe and the Americas ahead of a South Seas start in 2019.
Scott Over, the commercial director of OC Sport, told Sportcal: “One of the reasons for not going to the Far East and Sydney is so that the boats are not in containers for so long. A goal for this season is to focus on the west and then go to the east at the start of 2019, in the Far East and Australasia.”
There could be one or two acts in Asia-Pacific next year, and the organisers of the series are also exploring new frontiers, including South Africa and forthcoming hosts of major sports events.
Over said: “We’re looking at other venues. We know that Sydney has worked for us in the past. We’ve also had a long-term partnership with Qingdao. Cape Town would be great, and we've never been to Africa.
"Japan have the Rugby World Cup coming up [in 2019] and they’ve announced the Olympic sailing venue [for Tokyo 2020]. We’ve had a lot of success with Olympic legacy venues in the past, as they tend to be near major cities.”
By the same token, Saint Petersburg in Russia, which formed part of the Extreme Sailing Series for three years until 2016 and, with the backdrop of the Peter and Paul Fortress and the Winter Palace, is regarded as one of the most “iconic” venues, is returning to the schedule this August. The city is a popular location with the series sponsors, and will enjoy a global profile in June and July as one of the main hosts of matches at the Fifa World Cup in Russia.
Over said: “We wanted to go back there, and it fits in with commercial values. Saint Petersburg was big for Land Rover and it is for SAP. From a sporting point of view, they’ve got the World Cup just before so we’ll have a crescendo at the end of the summer.”
Muscat, the established host of the series opener, is back for an eighth successive season, and Cardiff for a seventh, as Wales celebrates its ‘Year of the Sea’ in 2018.
San Diego, Los Cabos and Barcelona in Spain, all of which were added to the series last year, have been retained although a venue has still to be finalised for the act in Portugal in July. The capital Lisbon, Porto and the Madeira Islands have all hosted events in recent years.
Looking further ahead, Over does not rule out a return to South America (Brazil hosted events in Rio de Janeiro in 2012 and Florianopolis in 2013) albeit there are logistical issues with transporting the fleet and the supporting infrastructure to that part of the world.
He said: “We’ve had a lot of chats with Rio and a lot of chats with Punto del Este [in Uruguay]. We’ve also explored options with Argentina and Colombia, but all these have their own challenges.”
While commercial factors do come into play, the principles for deciding venues for the Extreme Sailing Series have not changed.
Over said: “In general, we’re still very, very sailor-focused, trying to meet their needs, while operating the stadium racing format. The boats need to stretch their legs, while being seen from the shore. We also want it to be an iconic sailing series. The backdrops are pretty fantastic, and Barcelona, San Diego and Los Cabos last year added to that.”
OC Sport is now finalising preparations ahead of the start of the 2018 series in Muscat on 14 to 17 March. The six main teams from last year are all returning, including defending champions SAP Extreme Sailing Team, and are set to be joined by a new entry, possibly from Mexico.
In addition, the organisers are in discussions with existing and potential new sponsors about renewing deals or coming on board, and are looking to step up the 'guest sailor' experience, a feature of the hospitality offering, in which VIPs are invited on board the foiling GC32s or support boats during the races.
Over said: “We took on a new partner towards the end of last year, in Cardiff, in Highfield, a rib manufacturer, which is going to allow us to get more people on the water, and up close and personal with the racing.”
The season will again culminate in Los Cabos, with the event from 29 November to 2 December.