History will show that one man has done more to change the face of sailing for non-sailing audiences more than any other.
British sailor Mark Turner, after six years in the Royal Navy had competed in numerous Grand Prix sailing events including the Whitbread Round the World Race in 1989-90, the Transat Jacques Vabre and the Mini Transat. In 1993 Turner by then the Marketing Director at Spinlock, founded Offshore Challenges and in 1998 left Spinlock to focus fully on the OC Group business that included the management of Ellen MacArthur’s successful Vendée Globe race and the record-breaking solo round the world non-stop record.
In 2007 Turner’s Cowes based Offshore Challenges started Extreme 40 sailing series and in doing that began a sailing stadium revolution, then a sports management giant.
Turner recalls ‘We started with four boats and four venues, just in Europe, and we have continued to break ground and innovate. The Extreme Sailing Series™ has certainly been a catalyst for a lot of change in the sport. Even ultimately to the point where foiling, that we are now embracing in 2016 with the GC32s, probably wouldn’t have seen the light of day if the Series hadn’t kicked it off by making multihull racing credible and accessible outside France where it has been accepted for decades.
‘We have made the sport more accessible and engaging bringing sailing closer to audiences and making guest sailing, from a sponsorship perspective, a core part of any professional sailing event.
Indeed, he did and as the Extreme Sailing series powered along, other events have tacked in the same breeze.
The America’s Cup, post San Francisco needed to encourage great team participation and have settled very much on the same stadium racing format with the foiling AC45’s and now the World Match Racing Tour has moved to high speed cats, the M32 and added a fleet racing element.
Sailors know the difference between the event but to the non-sailing general public these two event must just seem like Extreme Sailing series clones.
Mind you, unlike powerboat or car racing, the motive power requires reliable breezes, San Francisco, Fremantle are two examples that deliver exciting racing, in a way that works for TV schedules.
So for any large waterside city, with some reliable wind, an Extreme Sailing series/AC45/World Match Racing Tour event will be of significant interest to tourism promotion groups and sports sponsors.
The type of interest these stadium sailing multihull events, all modelled on Turner’s original formula are attracting is that yesterday three Australian entrepreneurs with very deep pockets and long history in motor racing and power boating and no known sailing backgrounds have announced they will bid for a 2020 Louis Vuitton America’s Cup world series on the Queensland Gold Coast seeing it as a green, marine version extreme sport, attractive for sponsors and tourism authorities alike.
Turner now lives in Switzerland, he is the Executive Chairman of the OC Sport, now majority owned by the huge Télégramme Group, a major French media, sports and entertainment group, as part of their diversification and development strategy have acquired a majority shareholding in OC Sport, the global sports marketing company specialising in professional sailing and outdoor events.
The Télégramme Group more recently acquired an events portfolio in sport and entertainment, including in sailing the famous Route du Rhum Destination Guadeloupe, the event that launched Ellen MacArthur’s career and indeed OC Sport in 1998, and the Solitaire du Figaro Eric Bompard, the entire focus of OC Sport’s Artemis Offshore Academy.
Turner turned back to his offshore sailing roots with the Dongfeng Racing Team in the 2014-2015 Volvo Ocean Race, marketed as Life at the Extreme and obviously enjoyed that hugely. Dongfeng Commercial Division is now 45% owned by the Volvo Group and now maybe some Extreme stars are aligning.
With the retirement of Knut Frostad as the Volvo Ocean Race CEO, Turner is probably the highest profile of the candidates being considered by the Volvo Group.
We spoke to Turner today and he said ‘ I’m definitely not CEO of VOR today…I can confirm that! But I know I’m on a final list and it would be genuinely of interest for me’
Frostad put the VOR on an even keel when it was in danger of capsize in the Post GFC era.
Frostad told Sail-World that post the 2017-2018 race, the biggest decision facing the owners of the race will have to
make is whether the race should stay with a monohull or go to multihull and then possibly foils.
In Turner the race would have a new leader with an outstanding track record and who like his predecessor embraces change. We await the announcement of the new Volvo Ocean Race CEO with considerable interest.
by Rob Kothe Sail-World.com and YachtsandYachting.com