Russell Coutts: “The main challenge for Spain is to achieve commercial success” | Sports

Russell Coutts.
Russell Coutts.Adam Warner for SailGP (Adam Warner for SailGP)

For a New Zealander, from Wellington, Russell Coutts is a bit of a chilly person. It’s no less than 14 degrees on the terrace overlooking San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz on the right, Golden Gate on the left, but for the SailGP skipper it’s not a question of staying out. With forced education, he asks the interviewer, where do we do it, inside or outside? And before giving time to respond, he decides, we’ll do it inside. The hardness of his features, as if cut with a chisel on a piece of rock, the force with which he shakes the dry hand, another stone, respond perfectly to what is told of him in the world of sailing, in which, Hey, not a breeze dares to get up without getting your permission.

Once inside the provisional pavilions set up to house the VIP area for the weekend’s races, Coutts, 61, apologizes for not speaking Spanish, and is even ashamed of not speaking more than English when all the foreigners with whom speak they can change languages ​​just like that, like someone who snaps their fingers, and even their children study Spanish. The humility of what could be considered the king of world sailing, Olympic champion in Los Angeles 84 (Finn) and winner as skipper of three America’s Cups (two with New Zealand, one with the Swiss Alinghi) and two more as CEO is curious. from the Oracle of his friend Larry Ellison.

Poetry is not in the object that is contemplated but in the eye of the beholder, and it varies, of course. 10 years ago, from the same position, the San Francisco Bay Marina, between the St Francis Yacht Club, on his left, the posh club, and the Golden Gate Club, the popular and ruined club that admitted Ellison Disdained by the neighbors, he had a perfect vision of the orange Golden Gate in the middle of the fog that entered the Bay while his ship, the Oracle, achieved a comeback against New Zealand that went down in the history of the impossible. Best of 18 regattas: New Zealand won 8-1; Ellison and Coutts’ ship, a traitor to her country in a way, a mercenary, won the last nine to prevail 10-8 and keep the Cup. , the music of Vertigo that could invade it. In her head another idea was boiling. “We set out to create a great entertainment product with the catamaran races with foils,” says Coutts, who was not thinking of another America’s Cup, so corseted by the rules inherited from the first challenge between British noblemen and American millionaires in the industry. “A league of several competitions a year in different cities, such as F1 Grand Prix with state-of-the-art sailboats, the same for everyone, with the same settings, the same elements, and races of a maximum of 15 minutes…”

This weekend, in the same San Francisco Bay, between the Golden Gate and Alcatraz Island, under the flight of helicopters and impressive brown pelicans, and their squawking, the final race of the third season was held. Already winner of the first two editions, Tom Slingsby’s Australia (strategist in the Oracle of the Copa América that 2013 in the same Bay) prevailed again in the third.

“It is very entertaining. Five of the nine teams have won one of the 10 events already held this year. It’s extremely competitive, the racing is incredibly close now and if you compare our racing now to season one it’s a totally different product,” says Coutts of the F50 racing, twin keel, 15m long, 8, 8 meters wide, a 24-meter rigid wing, a jib and five crew members who reach speeds close to 100 kilometers per hour on circuits several meters above the water supported by foils, and without a motor. “I think the racing is much more exciting. And that’s why I think we’re seeing such rapid audience growth. In many of the countries we go to now we see the races being watched by both non-sailors and sailors, and that has been the big difference.”

Coutts speaks of audience increases via streaming and digital media of up to 300%, to reach almost 10 million viewers per day around the world. “It’s about attracting non-fans, as I say, and I know that in New Zealand, 90% of spectators have never set foot on a boat in their lives, and also attracting a young audience to a competition that, like all the great sports, see it as a metaphor for life.” And he adds: “In a few months, in the Los Angeles race of the fourth season, there will be people from platforms of streaming, like Netflix or Amazon, to see what product they can do. Behind-the-scenes stories are the key. We have, on YouTube, racing on the edge, but we would like to go further, as many sports are doing. It is the struggle of the athletes, of the owners, it is the commercial challenges of the teams, the sporting challenges. That’s life. It is living under pressure. The struggle of the people is always the center. Professional athletes is that they are fighting for their career. And they do it in a much more public way than the other professionals. If you are working in a company, you may have your internal battles to earn a promotion and succeed, but in the world of sports and professional sports, it is a very public process and you fight to survive. I guarantee you that some of the people sitting on the stage at that press conference [los nueve conductores de los nueve barcos, algunos leyendas olímpicas y de la Copa América, como Peter Burling, Peter Spithill, Ben Ainslie, Tom Slingsby], it is something that is not said, but I guarantee you that some of them are worried. Where will I be in two years? What will my role be? Am I still sitting here? Or I’ll be displaced by someone younger… And it’s amazing how fast it changes, you can be on top of the world in no time. Drive to survive [la docuserie de la F1 en Netflix] It’s a great name for that.”

SailGP owns all the teams, except for the British team, owned by its driver, Ben Ainslie, and an investment fund that paid 40 million euros, and controls everything. Financially, for now, it depends on the investment of Ellison, the Oracle billionaire. “We have the goal of reaching eight major global sponsors. We have four. And soon we are going to announce a fifth. We are growing fast. We are on the right track to become a company with benefits”, says the boss. “The goal was to be after five seasons, but we will achieve it sooner, surely at the end of the fourth.”

Coutts decides for everyone. They are all his team. He didn’t like how Spain was going and he fired Jordi Xammar, the young driver who had debuted a year earlier, precisely in San Francisco. “It was traumatic to kick him out, but in professional sports if you don’t make those kinds of changes, if you’re not bold enough to make them, you run the risk of the whole world failing,” he says, and his philosophy of life, of shark, shine “It’s not very different from any company, if things don’t go well, and you don’t respond, you run the risk of everything failing. But I think that with Diego Botín they form a very strong group now. They know they are under pressure, but they are a very, very good team. I really hope we see some good results from him soon. The chemistry in the team is very strong now.”

A shark that presses, and his people ask Botín, recently promoted to the job of pilot, at the press conference if he thinks they will continue for another year. “Spain is the team that is having the hardest time finding solid financial support. I think athletic performance has had something to do with it. [marcha noveno y último en la liga]. If they were winning, of course it would help, but also, I think it is taking a long time for interest to catch on in Spain,” she says. “But I hope the team is successful because they have incredible talent. They have shown it in the Olympic classes. So I hope they get it. I am trying to help them as much as I can. I’m sure Diego was the right move. And I hope you get the equipment working before it’s too late. I think the challenge for the whole team is to make sure we are successful commercially. That is the main challenge now. Spain is a proud nation that likes its sports teams to do well. We are not going to make any changes to the team, we want to give them every opportunity to succeed.”

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