Sir Russell Coutts moves on from ‘tainted’ America’s Cup

Kiwi yachting great, Sir Russell Coutts, who famously won the America’s Cup five times, is energised by his new sailing venture, the SailGP concept he manages for his old Oracle boss, Larry Ellison.

They are using modified foiling catamarans from the last America’s Cup in Bermuda but that’s where the comparisons end in the eyes of Coutts.

“I’ll be frank, I don’t want to be compared [with the America’s Cup] because then you become tainted,” Coutts told The Times as SailGP wrapped up a successful regatta on the Hudson River in downtown New York.

“People think, ‘Oh that’s like the America’s Cup’. I actually don’t want that. I want to be viewed as completely different, a new take on what sailing is.

“I’d far rather compare ourselves to other more traditional sports, which are actually far more like us. I’m more focused, for example, on what the NBA is doing. I was really interested by recent studies, which showed they were losing audiences in the 18-34 age demographic, so they started heavily promoting the fourth quarter of matches only to that age demographic and the numbers shot up immediately.

Japan won the latest SailGP regatta in New York to go to the top of the points table

“We are going to do that with our final race. SailGP has all the elements. It is a high-speed, high-drama, high-tech team sport. It has the nationality component, which is important in sports, and we will develop the personalities.”

SailGP’s final race will be a winner-takes-all US$1m affair in southern France in September.

A rare sailing talent, Coutts made his fame in the America’s Cup on the back of 1984 Olympic gold in the Finn class. He won the Auld Mug with Team New Zealand, Switzerland’s Alinghi and Oracle Team USA.

But the Cup also saw Coutts become a polarising figure with many Kiwis failing to understand the professional nature of international yachting that enticed Coutts to sail for other teams.

Coutts also grew tired of the Cup’s four-year cycle and constant bureaucracy though he was a master of managing both.

He sees SailGP as having the ability to deliver regular, meaningful competition to keep the world’s best sailors active. He believes it is also yachting that is relevant to a younger audience with its high speeds and short racing format.

SailGP has held regattas in Sydney, San Francisco and New York. Events in Cowes and Marseilles, will complete the first year which is being contested by teams from Australia, Japan, United States, France, Great Britain and China.

Next year another team will be added and more regattas sailed. Coutts’ ultimate vision is for a circuit involving 12 teams and 20 events.

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