Official presentation of the Louis Vuitton World Series
A new page in world sailing was written today in the Louis Vuitton offices in Paris with the official presentation of the Louis Vuitton World Series (LVWS) and the World Sailing Team Association (WSTA). Trying to fill the gap created by the 2-year long legal dispute that has paralyzed the America's Cup, the French luxury group is reentering the world of sailing with the creation of a professional racing circuit, co-organized with WSTA, another newly-formed entity.
In front of a crowd of dozens of French and foreign journalists, Bruno Troublé, Yves Carcelle (Louis Vuitton CEO), Christian Estrosi (Mayor of Nice), Grant Dalton (CEO of Emirates Team New Zealand) and Stephane Kandler (CEO of K-Challenge) spent almost 2 hours laying out the details of what they claim to be the "Champions League" of sailing (although it's funny the AUDI Medcup makes the exact same claim).
Maybe the best definition of what the WSTA is was given by Grant Dalton, a key person in the entire process: "The WSTA is an environment where the teams control their future". Some world's top professional sailing teams, excluding the America's Cup Defender Alinghi, set up an association, a group to run their own races. In the words of Stephane Kandler, what they are proposing is "a circuit that will provide a high-level racing we can present to our sponsors", while it is "the very first time the teams have been consulted, where their opinion matters".
All the details of what was presented during the conference are thoroughly but the obvious question now is whether this circuit will create enough media interest in order for teams to sell it to their potential sponsors. It goes without saying that the Louis Vuitton name adds prestige and credibility to the circuit, but still it isn't the America's Cup. Yet, all participants stressed the fact its aim isn't to compete with the America's Cup, but exist in parallel. In addition, the presentation was about a Series that would end after 2011. There was no discussion about what might happen further ahead.
The key point is that both Louis Vuitton and the WSTA bet on the fact that no matter who wins the 33rd America's Cup, they will have a hard time setting up America's Cup racing in 2010 or even 2011. As a result they could fill the gap for that period and then see how the situation shapes up.
WSTA TeamsThe World Sailing Team Association currently consists of 8 teams, 4 of which are preferential shareholders and have the right to one vote in the decision-making processes. The preferential shareholders are BMW Oracle, Emirates Team New Zealand, Synergy and Artemis. Each of them holds one vote. The remaining teams have one collective vote and Louis Vuitton holds the sixth one.
The 4 remaining teams are K-Challenge, Mascalzone Latino, Team French Spirit and Joe Fly. The former two are the same ones that took part in the America's Cup in Valencia while the latter are newcomers. Joe Fly is headed by Vasco Vascotto and Team French Spirit by Marc Pajot.
Two big names that are absent from the list are Team Origin and Luna Rossa. According to Stephen Barclay, Team Origin is in discussions with the WSTA and an announcement could be made within the next few days. As for Luna Rossa, according to Barclay, the Italians are mostly focused on their STP65 campaign and that seems to occupy most of their resources. It is practically impossible for them to be in Nice in November but Barclay hinted they might join at a later stage.
Having set the limit at 10 teams there are two slots available and according to Troublé, 4 very serious candidates. An official announcement should be made within the following weeks.
BMW Oracle will participate in the LVWS, at least in the opening event in France, with a crew entirely different from the one that is currently preparing for the 33rd America's Cup. According to Barclay, the two campaigns will be completely separate. As Troublé put it, "BMW Oracle has the resources to have two separate teams while Alinghi lacks this capacity".
Finally, all WSTA teams will have to sign up for 2 years but it hasn't still been decided how many of the events will be compulsory.
The World Sailing Team Association and the Louis Vuitton World series are officially born. The mayor of Nice, together with the CEO of Louis Vuitton and representatives from the 8 teams that constitute the WSTA. Paris, 8 September 2009. Photo copyright Pierre Orphanidis / Valencia Sailing
EventsThe total number of events Louis Vuitton and the WSTA plan to hold is 6 or 7. The inaugural race of the newly-formed Louis Vuitton World Series will be in Nice, France from the 7th until 22nd of November 2009. For the next year, the first regatta will be held in Auckland and although the final calendar hasn't been set it will most probably span the last week of February and the first two weeks of March.
The second event of 2010, and third overall of the Series, will most probably take place in La Maddalena, Italy some time in May but a final agreement hasn't been reached yet.
In all events there will be a "home team" that although participates in the initial stages of racing it will have its slot in the finals guaranteed, similar to what took place last February in Auckland. This is done for obvious marketing, spectator and media reasons because it is believed that the elimination of the local team early in the event would considerably limit the local public interest.
More venues are being considered by LV and the WSTA and they will be announced during the Nice regatta. The most serious contenders for hosting a LVWS race are Valencia, Athens, Newport, Cape Town, Abu Dhabi and Hong Kong. Four of these venues don't have a local team participating in the WSTA and a possible exception could be done, by letting them race in that event only even if they are not fully participating in the Series.
BoatsHere as well, Louis Vuitton and the WSTA stick with a formula that worked in Auckland in the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series and is by far the cheapest solution for the teams. In each event 4 ACC yachts will be used for racing, after having been modified in order to make them as evenly matched as possible.
For the events in the Mediterranean, the LVWS will use Mascalzone Latino's ITA-90 and ITA-99 as well as Desafío's ESP-88 and ESP-97. Nevertheless, there was no mention of whether that meant the Spanish team has signed up or is about to do so. Although it was not explicitely stated, one is to assume that for the events in Asia and Oceania the organization will reuse the BMW Oracle and Team New Zealand yachts from the LVPS.
According to Stephen Barclay, the small differences that might eventually exist between the 4 yachts will not be a serious problem and will not put any team into a disadvantage, given the very short courses and the experience from the first event in Auckland.
Finally, Bruno Troublé mentioned that there is currently a discussion among the WSTA members about designing a new class of yachts for the future but everything is still at an initial exploratory state. According to him, the ACC V5 yachts have been raced for a short time only, they still represent the highest level of technology in monohulls, and under the current tough economic climate it wouldn't make any sense designing and building a brand new class of yachts when you have lots of yachts getting dusty in the boat sheds in Valencia.
Possible legal problemsThere are two aspects of the Louis Vuitton World Series that could become potential legal headaches. The first one is the current America's Cup Defender, Alinghi, and the second one is ISAF.
Both Troublé and Dalton repeatedly played down the Alinghi issue, even if the Swiss win the 33rd America's Cup in February. Alinghi's representatives have held discussions with Louis Vuitton and even if they declined to participate they haven't opposed the Series. On the same wave was Dalton's reply to the question, stating that although th Swiss haven't helped, at least they haven't caused any problem.
The use of the word "WORLD" might be a more serious issue. Troublé has approached both the ISAF and the World Match Racing Tour and although their initial reaction was positive there is a need to hold further discussions. Troublé will meet with the ISAF in 10 days. Each year the points won in every event will be accumulated and the overall leader will be named "Winner of the Louis Vuitton World Series" but never world champion.
Financial aspectsWhen asked by the French financial press, Yves Carcelle, CEO of Louis vuitton, declined to reveal the financial part of his company's involvement in the LVWS. On the other hand, Christian Estrosi, mayor of Nice, was quick to state that total cost of the regatta for his city will be 1.5 million euros.
A key selling point of the Series is that its costs are far lower even when compared to a TP52 campaign when one includes the construction of a yacht. According to Troublé, even if salaries vary widely from one team to another, each participating team will have to spend between 300 and 600 thousand euros in Nice.