Monsoon Cup: Sailing's richest event
Few could have imagined back in 2005 that a match racing event in a then-unknown port on the eastern coast of Malyasia would turn out to become a showcase of how inshore sailing events should be organized and, more importantly, the world's richest sailing event with a total prize pool of RM 1.5 million, close to US$ 500,000.
With the start of the 2010 Monsoon Cup just around the corner, Valencia Sailing talked to the event's Operations Manager, Shafique Iqbal, the person that makes sure the Monsoon Cup is "like no other event in the world", as stated Triple Olympic gold medallist, Ben Ainslie.
The Ri-Yaz Heritage Marina, venue of the Monsoon Cup
The Monsoon Cup started in 2005 as a part a showcase of a big infrastructure development in Kuala Terengganu, initiated by the Malaysian government. A new marina was built, together with a brand new resort next to it while the river mouth was dredged and reshaped and a new fishermen wharf was constructed. In what has become a trend in the last few years, the regatta is conceived as a marketing tool for major infrastructure and tourist developments.
For the event promoters, the Monsoon Cup put Kuala Terengganu on the world map but also brought an important number of cruise and leisure boats to their marina. Traditionally, all of Malaysia's marinas face the Strait of Malacca while Kuala Terangganu is the only one in the country on the Southern China Sea and it has now become a much-welcome stopover for the constantly-increasing number of leisure yachts on those waters. Power and sail boats from China, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand or even as far as the UK, now make a stop at the Ri-Yaz Heritage Marina. Facilities are of a world-class level and further improvement and expansion are in the pipeline until the entire master plan is fully implemented.
The purpose-built facilities in Kuala Terengganu have nothing to envy, even when compared to Formula 1 tracks. The two-story building on the waterfront houses the media center, the enormous broadcasting center, the VIP & hospitality lounges, the sponsor booths as well as the sailors lounge and gym. All that, a few dozens of meters from the race course. One could claim the sailing stadium was invented there.
World-class facilities built at Ri-Yaz by Malaysian Entrepreneur Patrick Lim. Photo copyright SubZero Images
Big organization for a world-class regatta and year-round activities
The Monsoon Cup core team consists of 10 people that work full-time round the year while another five join the time approximately half a year before the start of the event. However, the bulk of people joins a few days before the start and can reach up to 150. This small army of people take care of every small detail on and off the water, ranging from race operations, media & TV operations, VIP & guest staff, technical staff to food & beverage staff, spectator activities or even at the airport, helping sailors & guests.
However, not all racing activities are focused on the week the Monsoon Cup takes place. The Malaysian Match Racing Championship and the Asian Match Racing Championship take place in the month prior to the Monsoon Cup. These two events serve as qualifiers for the actual regatta and provide two spots, one for a Malaysian skipper and another one from Asia. As a result, the months of October, November and early December are by far the busiest ones in Kuala Terengganu.
The purpose-built facilities don't become a ghost town though in the rest of the year. The organization has a busy program of corporate sailing activities, team building programs as well as two match racing schools. The first one is located in Kuala Terengganu and caters to non-sailors that get initiated to the sport of sailing while the second one, the Monsoon Sailing School, targets Malaysian sailors that want to hone their skills under the tutelage of experienced match racers. It was established in 2009 and is located in Putrajya, south of Kuala Lumpur. The Monsoon Sailing School is a first step in the creation of a permanent match racing fabric not only in that country but throughout Asia. In fact, in 2010, just its second year of existence, the Monsoon Sailing School attracted sailors from Turkey and the Philippines.
Ri Yaz Marina Building the Home of Monsoon Cup. Photo copyright SubZero Images
Making sailing popular in Malaysia and Asia
Like in the rest of South East Asian countries, sailing in Malaysia is still a niche sport, despite the rapidly increasing numbers of a relatively affluent middle class and the fact the country is surrounded by the sea. One of the targets of the Monsoon Cup organizers is to precisely break the myth sailing is only for the rich and this is gradually being achieved, according to Iqbal.
During the Monsoon Cup and its related events, over seven days, more than 100,000 people visit the public areas to watch the races and participate in the related activities. The vast majority of the crowds are local residents and the attendance figure is quite big if one considers that the entire population in the Kuala Terengganu area is about 390,000 people. The large majority of them come out to the opening concert which is a huge production. There is also a number of visitors coming from Kuala Lumpur or other regions of the country but the event caters mainly to the local population. For many locals the Monsoon Cup is an entertainment otherwise unavailable because the Terengganu state is quite conservative and, for example, there are no cinemas in Kuala Terengganu.
The drive to spread sailing to a grassroots level now comes as well from the event's main sponsor, the Malaysian Ministry of Youth and Sports. The country's federal government, through this ministry, provides approximately 60-70% of the event's total budget. As a result, the ministry desires a return that is prominent throughout the year and not just in the few weeks running up to the event. Not only does the Monsoon cup have to put Malaysia on the world sailing map it needs to deliver sporting results. Through the various sailing schools the aim is to bring up the level of Malaysian sailors and why not have a fully-Malaysian team participating in the World Match Racing Tour in the not so distant future.
Finally, another main objective of the ministry, as a spin-off of the Monsoon Cup, is to establish and develop a local boat building and repair industry, which forms part of the Minister of Youth & Sports Dato’ Sri Ahmed Shabbery Cheek agenda of developing industries around sport and sporting events.
Karnival Monsoon draws a huge crowd of families. Photo copyright SubZero Images
Promotion, marketing and sponsorship
The Monsoon Cup brand is widely known around the country but Iqbal and his team don't rest on their laurels. Two months before the event they start their media campaign in the country's three major newspapers and a month later they also include the local media in Terengganu. The campaign consists of the usual advertizing banner but also, more importantly, a continuous stream of news and stories about the event. Advertizing on outdoor billboards along the main highways also forms part of their campaign while a very effective method, according to Iqbal, was used in 2008 and 2009 and consisted of placing billboards on 1,000 taxis in Kuala Lumpur.
In addition to the public sponsors, the Monsoon Cup counts among its suppliers some of the major Malaysian corporations. By far the most important ones are Telecom Malaysia known as TM that provides all the telecommunications and Internet infrastructure and Malaysian Airlines and its regional subsidiary FireFly that provide the air travel of sailors, guests, VIPs and the organization.