OC Sport pulls plug on Extreme Sailing Series but MBO on the horizon
By Simon Ward
OC Sport, the international events company, has withdrawn from the organisation of the Extreme Sailing Series after 12 years, citing external “commercial hits” which meant that the inshore circuit was no longer viable, but it could yet live on via a management buyout.
There had been serious doubts over the future of the ESS given the lack of announcements over plans for 2019, and the fact that recent editions have started in Muscat in Oman in March, and OC Sport will henceforth be focusing on its offshore sailing activities.
It is understood that the decision to withdraw from the running of the ESS was communicated internally in January, with around 30 staff released from the office in Cowes in the UK.
The ESS launched in 2007, as the iShares Cup, and has been promoted as the world’s leading ‘stadium racing’ series, with multiple short races held close to shore at scenic venues around the world.
The circuit adopted a new boat, in the hydrofoiling GC32, in 2016, in an attempt to replicate the drama of the America’s Cup, sailing’s blue riband event, and returned to North America, with events in San Diego, USA and Los Cabos, Mexico, in 2017, but had struggled to attract new sponsors and backers, and elite sailors, in recent years.
In a statement to Sportcal today, OC Sport chief executive Hervé Favre said: "The Extreme Sailing Series has been a key part of our business for 12 years. It has been a genuine pacesetter and has led the way in inshore sailing. When we launched the series, we set out to change the way sailing is seen, fuelled by world-class competition. We wanted to make a difference to the sport and we believe we have done that.
“However, looking ahead, and although we explored many different business models, due to various commercial hits beyond our control over recent years, the difficult decision has been made that it is no longer financially viable for OC Sport to run the series, which is clearly a very sad moment for OC Sport.”
While there are no firm plans for a circuit in 2019 onwards, the Extreme Sailing Series brand looks set to be salvaged by a management buyout, which could see it return in a new format in due course.
Favre said: “The Extreme Sailing Series brand has become synonymous with world-class competition, hospitality and media output. For the brand to continue we have been working on a management buyout deal for some time which we are now very close to finalising. This will take the series in a new direction with a clear vision and we will be able to reveal more details in the coming weeks about the future of the Extreme Sailing Series."
OC Sport has this year refocused on its offshore sailing ventures, with the opening of a new hub in Lorient, on the north-west coast of France, intended to serve as an international base for future campaigns.
Meanwhile, the company continues to oversee the quadrennial Route du Rhum, from France to the Caribbean, and The Transat, from the UK to USA, and has managed the Chinese Dongfeng Race Team’s campaigns in the Volvo Ocean Race, including the team’s victory in the 2017-18 event.
Outside sailing it organises the Haute Route Cycling Series, comprising multi-day events for amateur riders in various countries, trail running’s UTMB International and various marathons, other running and triathlon events in cities such as Geneva in Switzerland and Nice in France.
Favre said today: “Sailing continues to be a key sport for us but it was time for our strategy to change and we are now focused on the offshore side of the sport. We have just opened a new base in Lorient called ‘Le HUB by OC Sport’, which offers a full-service solution for international offshore sailing campaigns.
“And of course, we will continue to manage our established offshore events including the four-yearly Route du Rhum and The Transat, as well as the annual Solitaire Urgo Le Figaro, which this year will be coming to Kinsale [in Ireland] for the 50th anniversary edition of the event.”
Earlier this month, Favre was named as sole chief executive of OC Sport, with the announcement of the departure of Rémi Duchemin, one of the co-founders of company, with whom he had been sharing responsibilities.
Other recent departures have included Scott Over, formerly commercial director within OC Sport’s sailing division, and now the commercial director of World Sailing.
OC Sport launched in Cowes on the Isle of Wight in 1998 to promote the activities of British round-the-world sailor Dame Ellen MacArthur, and has since expanded into other sports, driven to a significant extent by its acquisition by Group Télégramme, the French media, sports and entertainment group, in 2014.
It now has offices in the UK, France, Switzerland and USA.
• The World Match Racing Tour, the international head-to-head sailing series, has announced that the final of its unfinished 2018 season will go ahead, in Marstrand in Sweden, this July.
The decision follows the sale of the circuit to a group of investors behind C Share Financial Corporation, which was completed at the end of last year, after the final had been delayed.
Previous owner Astan Harald, the Sweden based manufacturer of sailing catamarans, had spent an estimated $20 million on developing and marketing the series over the previous three years.
The revised 2018-19 WMRT Final, to be hosted by GKSS Match Cup Sweden, will be contested in M32 catamarans from 3 to 7 July.
WMRT executive director James Pleasance said on Wednesday: “Teams invested in the Tour last year to win the World Championship. The Tour was sold before a Final took place and we have extended the schedule to ensure the World Championship title is properly awarded. The GKSS Match Cup Sweden has always been a flagship event of the Tour and we are excited to partner with them to host the World Championship.”
Having extended the 2018-19 season, the WMRT will announce a schedule for the 2019-20 campaign in the latter part of this year, with the new owners planning a remit for the series and an organisational structure similar to how it was before Aston Harald’s tenure.Sportcal