September 22, 2021

By Ron Leuty  –  Staff Reporter, San Francisco Business Times

Call it a faster, shorter America’s Cup. Call it another attempt by tech mogul and yachtsman Larry Ellison to secure San Francisco Bay’s place on the global sailing circuit.

Just don’t call SailGP — the sailing league initially bankrolled by Oracle Corp. co-founder and executive chairman Ellison — just another boat race. It is edgier and more exciting than the America’s Cup, promoters say as they try to line up Bay Area companies to sponsor their season finale in the Bay Area in March.

Job one for SailGP’s backers is to shove off from the aftermath of the America’s Cup, which San Francisco hosted in 2013 and ended up costing taxpayers more than $11 million. SailGP has no such financial guarantee from the city.

That’s not the only way SailGP tacks differently than America’s Cup. The U.K.-based league, established by Ellison and five-time America’s Cup winner Russell Coutts, features a shorter course with three races daily lasting about 15 minutes each — and all of the action on the San Francisco course happens within sight of Marina Green.

By contrast, the course of the America’s Cup in 2013 took eight hours to complete and whipped racers in and out of view of spectators.

What’s more, each of SailGP’s nine teams maneuver single-design, carbon-fiber, 50-foot catamarans — as opposed to the 72-foot America’s Cup craft — that skim the water at close to 60 miles an hour. That places an emphasis on sailing strategy and skills rather than on engineering to build the fastest boat.

With the Marin headlands in the background, the China SailGP team maneuvers at the racing league’s San Francisco event in 2019.

“There’s broad appeal for the general sports fan — certainly the racing fan, any racing fan,” Coutts said. “It’s a fast-paced, high-adrenaline, high-action sports event.”

And SailGP is a whole lotta regatta. Each event — from this season’s first race in Bermuda in April to the eighth and final one next March 26-27 in the Bay Area — consists of five fleet races involving all nine teams. Points are awarded according to each team’s finish, with the three highest-ranked teams competing in a finals race.

The winner of the grand finale in San Francisco — the only venue in the SailGP season in the United States — reaps $1 million.

But the league’s second-season stop in San Francisco is not just about the on-water action. Promoters hope that by enticing some of the Bay Area’s largest multinational companies to sponsor the March event, they can secure long-term relationships to support the league.

“We’re planning to reach out to different businesses and open up discussions and tell the SailGP story to companies that want branding, activation or hospitality elements in a package,” said Ben Shapiro, who heads Pivot Agency, the sports marketing firm hired this summer to lead business development for the San Francisco event and handle branding for SailGP’s U.S. team.

The pricing of those corporate packages for the San Francisco event ranges from the low six figures to the mid-seven figures, Shapiro said.

“We want to get large companies with international goals and objectives,” Shapiro said. “This is a marketing avenue internationally, but it’s also an opportunity to support San Francisco and attend and engage in a great experience.”

Larry Ellison, who spent an estimated $200 million defending Oracle Racing’s first America’s Cup, lifts it for the second time at the 2013 event in San Francisco.

Ellison has committed to bankroll F50 League LLC, which does business as SailGP, for the first few years. But the league reportedly plans to ultimately convert to individual team ownerships.

“As they move into the future, they want to have more partners,” Shapiro said.

The San Francisco event could be a “huge comeback moment” for the Bay Area, Shapiro said, especially as Covid-19-related international travel restrictions are lifted. Visitors, he said, are expected to book more than 2,500 hotel rooms.

SailGP raced in San Francisco in 2019, attracting about 10,000 people over the weekend to the event village at Marina Green. The league cancelled its 2020 season due to Covid.

While SailGP receives “fairly significant” fees from other event cities — including sites in Italy, Australia, Denmark and Spain — Coutts said Ellison is the major backer of the San Francisco event.

“We’re not making money yet,” Coutts said of the league. “We’re building the property.”

Sponsorship revenue is key, he said, as is building a media audience. Other revenue sources include ticketing and licensing.

“The goal is to get more corporate support in the Bay Area,” Coutts said. “The ultimate goal is to have an annual event secured with good corporate support going forward.”


PIVOT Agency was founded in 2013 as a full-service sports marketing agency, built at the nexus of brands and culture, and forming alliances between consumer brands, athletes, sports, the arts, causes, business and media. Today it has grown into four (4) unique and successful divisions, encompassing Brand Representation, Property Sales, Team Travel and Tennis. By applying unparalleled expertise and data at precisely the right time and place, its team of industry leading executives have helped build PIVOT into a growing influence in the sports and entertainment business.

PIVOT recognizes the importance of corporate citizenship and giving back to those in need. In 2018, PIVOT created the PIVOT Foundation, whose signature event is an amateur tennis tournament designed to raise money for the Leukemia, Lymphoma Society (LLS) in memory of Ben Shapiro’s (CEO and Founder) late father.


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