Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Peter Gilmour talks to Valencia Sailing about the World Match Racing Tour

Peter Gilmour
The World Match Racing Tour, the world's top-level professional match-racing circuit, announced yesterday that a group of Asian investors bought a stake in it and has ambitious plans for further development and expansion. Peter Gilmour, the legendary Australian match racer, is one of those investors and currently acting president of the Tour. Valencia Sailing talked to him about the current situation of the Tour, the plans for the future as well as the situation with the newly-created Louis Vuitton Series.

Valencia Sailing: Why did Regal Faith Ltd decide to buy into the WMRT? What business opportunity does it see?
Peter Gilmour: I think, importantly, the opportunity of the Tour is tremendous with 9 great events around the world that can grow from strength to strength. The new events that have been added to the Tour in the last 4 years, if you look at Korea, the most recent addition, and before that the Monsoon Cup in Malaysia have been very significant events that really make a mark. So, for the Tour to expand will need to create bigger and more prominent events.

Valencia Sailing: In the press release you refer to “Regal Faith Ltd and its consortium of investors based in Hong Kong, Malaysia and Australia”. Can you tell us who they are? Are you personally involved?
Peter Gilmour: Yes, I am personally involved and I have a financial stake. One of the other investors is Patrick Lim [the Malaysian businessman that founded the Monsoon Cup] and there are several others that have asked to remain private. Basically, they are very substantial individuals with significant businesses around the world.

Valencia Sailing: Can you tell us the price Regal Faith paid for its stake?
Peter Gilmour: No, I can't, it's confidential.

Valencia Sailing: All these investors are Asian. Does that reflect a shift of the Tour's focus towards that continent?
Peter Gilmour: There are several growth areas in match racing at the moment. Obviously Europe is very, very strong and we still see considerable growth there. More recently we have seen a little bit of growth occur in Asia but one of the biggest areas of opportunity in growth right now is the United States. They are, obviously, clearly struggling from economic difficulties, but if you look at the Grade 2 and 3 level there is quite an interest for an event there and just today we were contacted by a group that has an interest in doing something. I think that's the most exciting area for us.

Valencia Sailing: How does the current economic climate affect you? Has the 2-year legal battle in the America’s Cup also affected the WMRT?
Peter Gilmour: The only real negative effect on the Tour is probably the shift into the catamaran. For example Ed Baird was actively taking part in the Tour but had to drop out in order to fully concentrate on the Alinghi catamaran project. For sure this is not positive but the reality is that the entire situation of the America's Cup allowed this investment to occur. If we weren't in the current situation I don't think the consortium would have made the same investment. They are excited because we are currently into a light and quiet period.

Valencia Sailing: Sure but what will happen if the America's Cup dead end is finally solved in February and the next Defender, whether it's Alinghi or BMW Oracle, rolls on to a conventional multi-team event as soon as possible? Will that be a problem for the Tour?
Peter Gilmour: I don't think it will because the World Match Racing Tour has always been recognized as the source of America's Cup sailing talent. In addition, in the period of time between now and then it will give us the opportunity to get our house in order, to get things move on. From that perspective, even if for the general public the current America's Cup situation is viewed as very negative we view it as very positive.

Valencia Sailing: What are the short-term plans of the new owners?
Peter Gilmour: The plan is to understand what the business of the World Match Racing Tour is, to go around in the various events and encourage them to keep going. Once the Tour is completed, we will have a Tour Summit with all event organizers right after the World Yacht Racing Forum in December.

Valencia Sailing: Do you plan to change the number of events per year?
Peter Gilmour: The Tour currently consists of 9 events and we are looking into increasing that. I think there is a possibility of adding another 2 or 3 events and I don't think the calendar will be a great challenge. There are lots of events in fleet racing and all levels but this has always been the same.

Valencia Sailing: What will your personal role be in the new organization?
Peter Gilmour: My own role will, hopefully, simply be of a competing sailor. We are currently doing a global search for president and CEO, commercial director, director of operations, media director, all sorts of positions that we need to have filled. We are starting rather flat-footed in that respect and it's going to take us a little bit of time to put the team together, so if anyone reading this interview is interested in a job, they can send us their resume through the World Match Racing Tour.

Peter Gilmour wins the 2009 Match Cup Sweden. Marstrand, 5 July 2009. Photo copyright Dan Ljungsvik

Valencia Sailing: You definitely have ambitious goals about the future. Do you think that match racing can become a mainstream sport? How can you make it more accessible to the general, non-sailing public?
Peter Gilmour: I do think it can be more popular. First of all, it will require a deep and committed investment to enhance the product of what we already have. You need to build a franchise of the World Match Racing Tour into something of significant value to each of the franchisees, to each of the events. If we can build that up, over time it will become significantly more mainstream. Take for example the America's Cup. In 1983 it was just a small regatta off Newport, Rhode Island and it grew to a point that it charged tens of millions of dollars for television rights, sponsorship and so forth in 2007 in Valencia. Nobody would have believed that 25 years ago and I think it just needs a little bit of that same style of thinking. This is the second level down, the second main event of match racing in the world and certainly has a great opportunity to grow and expand itself.

Valencia Sailing: This is, more or less, the same message Louis Vuitton and the World Sailing Team Association wanted to convey in their presentation in Paris 2 weeks ago. They want to build a top-tier professional match-racing series around the world. They call it the LV World Series and even the format is quite similar, since teams race in boats provided by the organization. Can you comment on that?
Peter Gilmour: The situation with the LV Series is, in our opinion, very clear. Essentially, the exclusive rights to use the word "World" and be the premier match racing series or tour in the world, outside of the America's Cup, have been given to ProMatch Tour Ltd. This is very clear and unequivocal. Obviously, the LV proposed series got going without consideration for that and they didn't even talk to ISAF beforehand. I understand ISAF has written and asked them not to proceed using the words "World Series" and they haven't received any approval. We plan to meet with Louis Vuitton and the WSTA people in about a week's time and it really comes down to our right to sanction them, if we so wish. That's really pretty much where the situation is. We haven't received anything from them, no information whatsoever. Right now it's wait and see.

Valencia Sailing: There is one difference though, the proposed LV series will be raced in the current ACC boats. Do you envision having bigger boats in the World Match Racing Tour?
Peter Gilmour: When I started match racing as a 20-something year old we were sailing in boats around the 22-25ft size. In my 30's we were sailing in 32 to 34-foot boats and then up to 44 feet. In a lot of the venues they consider that the boats are still too small and we need to go to something bigger. For example Rusell Coutts' boats, the RC4's, are 44 feet long, there are also a lot of 45-foot boats and we could possibly sail in even bigger boats. Of course, you can also go all the way up to as big as 70 feet, similar to the America's Cup Class. We are pretty open minded and we look and consider any proposals.

Valencia Sailing: Have you considered having one single boat for the entire Tour, for all events?
Peter Gilmour: This has been considered in the past and this is essentially what the SM40 is. In my view, the success of that was probably moderate to lukewarm at best. I think one of the skills all great match racers have, portrayed by people like Russell Coutts, Ed Baird and the like, is the ability to go from one venue and one size boats to another venue and another class of boats and perform equally well. I actually think rather than trying to go to a fixed class, make it like a one-design concept, there is a tremendous beauty in the current format.

Valencia Sailing: Let's consider even bigger yachts. What kind of match racing should we expect from the two giant multihulls in the America's Cup next February? As one of the world's most prominent match sailors do you look forward to it?
Peter Gilmour: I think that at a technical level I certainly do look forward to it. I see two very well organized, very focused teams approaching the best technical output they can, at every level. As far as racing is concerned, I think that the situation will be similar to the 1988 America's Cup. We will see, probably, 5 to 10 knots of speed difference between the two boats, at times. I wouldn't be surprised if we see just two races and a very clear outcome. The most interesting thing for me is what French colleagues comment me, sailors that did the World Match Racing Tour and have great connections in the multihull world. They say that it's still too close to call. They argue over the benefits of the catamaran or the trimaran but even if we only see two races it's going to be interesting.

A lot of people argue this is the end of the America's Cup, this is dreadful, bad and all of that but I'm convinced it's going to be like 1988. It's only a blimp in a very colorful history of one of the world's greatest sports competitions.

Valencia Sailing: What about sailing the Tour in catamarans, let's say the Extreme 40's or something similar? Is that something you would consider?
Peter Gilmour: No, this is not something we would consider. We stick to monohulls.

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