Sunday, December 19, 2010

Valencia Sailing talks to Kevin Reed, head of Canada's America's Cup drive

The last time Canada was present in the America's Cup was in Fremantle in 1987 when a combined project from Secret Cove Yacht Club and Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron challenged the Defender from the Royal Perth Yacht Club and got eliminated in the Louis Vuitton Cup round robin.

Fast forward nearly a quarter of a century and it now seems possible that the world's second largest country by area could be once again represented in the competition for the world's oldest sports trophy. Red Maple Racing, led by Toronto financier Kevin Reed, is the project that embodies Canada's drive in the America's Cup. Valencia Sailing talked to Reed about the background, current sate and future of the project.

Valencia Sailing: Let's start with a brief background on the project. What made you try to form an America's Cup challenge?
Kevin Reed: I've certainly been a fan of the America's Cup for perhaps three decades and it's something Canada hasn't had an entry in since 1987. In the last 5-6 years I have been speaking with Paul Henderson, a former ISAF President, about an entry for Canada. All these years, both personally and through the companies I own, I have sponsored many Canadian Olympic athletes, including Canadian Olympic sailors. With the new format America's Cup Race Management and America's Cup Event Authority have prepared it has certainly become very attractive now for Canada to take a look at this. The economics of the old model or at least the last 10-15 years was restrictive but now, Russell Coutts and his team have done a tremendous job transforming it into a business like Formula 1 or other professional sports.

Valencia Sailing: From what I understand, you claim the changes brought by Russell Coutts made the cup interesting for you. Does that mean that the 32nd America's Cup in Valencia or the ones before in Auckland were not interesting from a Canadian perspective?
Kevin Reed: Although very exciting as a fan, it was very prohibitive on the financial side, from a Canadian perspective. I was at the 2007 Cup in Valencia and it was very exciting, a great event and certainly of interest but the new format has allowed us to set up a committee to examine this. We hope to take a decision in the next 45 days if we are going ahead with the challenge but right now with the new format we are very optimistic we should be able to do something for Canada.

Valencia Sailing: At what stage of preparation is the project right now? Will you personally fund it or will you have other backers as well, whether private individuals or companies?
Kevin Reed: In the next 45 days we'll be looking at a few things. One of them is the financing mechanisms. Can we put them in place so that the project is financed not only by me but also Canadian companies that want to sponsor us? In the next area, we believe there is enough Canadian talent to put together an all-Canadian sailing team. Another area we are looking into is the design and build team and again we believe the talent is here. So, we have three things Paul Henderson, myself and the rest of the team are looking at: The financing mechanisms, the sailing and the design and build teams and we are trying to be all-Canadian in all three areas, as much as we can.

Valencia Sailing: Do you believe you can be competitive with a solely Canadian team?
Kevin Reed: We certainly believe we have the talent pool to do that. There is a number of Canadians that have been involved in previous America's Cups as well as other major sailing events and we are convinced this talent pool is right here in Canada.

Valencia Sailing: Let's get back to the issue of costs. In a recent article in the Toronto Star, you mentioned you had in mind a budget of 30 to 45 million dollars. Do you still stick with that figure?
Kevin Reed: Yes, this is what we are looking at for the next three and a half to four years. We think that the annual budget will be between 10 and 12 million dollars. What's important for us is the new format and the fact it continues post-34th America's Cup. That's very important to us because it will help build the Canadian interest in the event, the fan base as well as the Canadian sponsorship dollars. The communication we get from the America's Cup organizers is that they are trying to build this so that it continues after the 34th edition.

Valencia Sailing: You mentioned the interest in Canada. How popular is sailing in Canada? Do you think you'll get a strong base of followers or will it remain a niche event, mainly unnoticed by the mainstream media?
Kevin Reed: Since we haven't had an entry since 1987 it will take some time to get a broader appeal. There is a strong core sailing population in Canada but to get the broad appeal it will take longer. This is why we strongly believe that if we put an all-Canadian team together we will get the media to follow us.

Valencia Sailing: Where will the team be based?
Kevin Reed: That's a good question. We still haven't decided. The challenge will come from the Royal Canadian Yacht Club which is in Toronto. Where we base the team will depend on the race schedule. We will look at it and then decide where it will be the most efficient location to be based. Paul Henderson will decide what the most efficient location for the team to train and live is.

Valencia Sailing: I suppose that from a Canadian perspective, San Francisco is the ideal venue for this edition of the Cup.
Kevin Reed: I would say that America is because we are seeing some communication that perhaps Rhode Island is also on the hunt. Without a doubt, either San Francisco or Rhode Island would be ideal for us. As long as it's in the US it certainly helps a lot to pull together the Canadian support.

Valencia Sailing: If for some reason, even the most remote, the venue is not in the US will that put an end to your challenge?
Kevin Reed: No, it will not stop it but it will make it harder for Canadian sponsors because although the format is to have 5 races next year and 8 in 2012, the big lure, the big attraction is that Challenger and Defender Series will take place in North America. That's very attractive for Canadian sponsors and viewer audience.

Valencia Sailing: What feedback do you get from the potential Canadian sponsors. Do they see an interest in such a project?
Kevin Reed: They sure do. Canada is in great shape, our economy is in great shape, we weathered the downturn extremely well and we've got numerous Canadian companies doing great things around the world and it makes sense to a lot of them to entertain their clients in a world-class event like the America's Cup.

Valencia Sailing: Given the fact Canada has been out of the Cup for almost 25 years you must start from scratch. Do you feel you don't have enough time to set up a competitive team?
Kevin Reed: Time is not our friend. We start we a tight time frame, without a doubt, but as I said we start with a number of great Canadian sailors today that we feel we can pull together and be extremely competitive in our first shot in the next 2-3 years.

Valencia Sailing: Can you give us at least a hint on who the skipper or the principal designer will be?
Kevin Reed: I'll leave that to Paul Henderson if he wishes to disclose. Our number one goal is to make sure the financing mechanisms are in place and once we have that and a commitment from the team we will certainly have a formal announcement. We hope to have that by February.

Valencia Sailing: You mentioned Paul Henderson quite a few times. Is he in charge of the sport part of the team?
Kevin Reed: Paul and I are working hand and hand on this but I focus on the business aspect of it and he focuses on recruiting the sailors.

Valencia Sailing: You are an accomplished ice hockey player and you played competitively in your youth. As a sportsman, how much different is sailing from ice hockey?
Kevin Reed: Well, one is one ice and one is on water that hasn't frozen yet, at least here in Toronto. Both sports have a team aspect where you need everyone to work as one team and I think the similarities are quite striking between ice hockey and sailing. No one person can win it but you need the entire team to win it. For me it's a big attraction because I love team sports and I have always been a big supporter of team sports.

Valencia Sailing: Are you sailor yourself?
Kevin Reed: Yes, I am.

Valencia Sailing: Will you be onboard the yacht during the Cup?
Kevin Reed: First of all we will make sure we put on the boat the people that can win it, after that we will have to take care of our sponsors and if at the end there is a spot I would be happy to go for a ride.

Valencia Sailing: Thanks, is there anything else you would like to add?
Kevin Reed: I can tell you that the America's Cup Race Management and Event Authority have done a tremendous job in trying to help challengers come into this. What they have done for the good of the sport is wonderful and I couldn't say enough good things about how they are trying to help us and all the other challengers to get involved. These guys are first-rate professionals. Russell Coutts, Tom Ehman and their team are doing a great job.

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