Britain’s Sir Ben Ainslie now has another title: Team owner in the SailGP global league.
Ainslie and business partner Chris Bake have purchased majority ownership in Great Britain SailGP Team, with American tech billionaire Larry Ellison retaining a minority stake.
The British squad, which is helmed by Ainslie, is the first of the existing eight SailGP teams to become a third-party owned franchise in the league that Ellison and former America’s Cup champion Sir Russell Coutts of New Zealand founded in 2019. A new Swiss team announced for the third season and an as-yet unannounced team also have third-party ownership.
Ainslie, the most successful sailor in Olympic history and a former America’s Cup champion, said he was so impressed after joining SailGP for season two that he began exploring becoming an owner.
“As you know, that’s been the model for many, many years in American sport and proven to be successful,” Ainslie said Wednesday from Cádiz, Spain, where season two resumes this weekend. “We haven’t had that in sailing before, so I think it’s a really cool moment for the sport that we have this league and we are now in position where these franchises are starting to be taken and starting to have real value.”
SailGP is contested in fast, foiling 50-foot catamarans. The season champion will claim a $1 million, winner-take-all prize.
Ainslie is concurrently running a British challenge for the America’s Cup. He believes the two events complement each other. While there are usually gaps of three to four years between America’s Cup regattas, SailGP has an annual calendar of regattas around the world.
Ainslie said he Bake believe they can make a go of it commercially in SailGP.
“We wouldn’t have gone into this if we didn’t think there was a reasonable chance that we would get to that point,” he said. “It’s not a vanity project. Otherwise it would have been easier to take a salary from the league and turn up and do the event and not take the risk. We clearly believe in the league and the team and think we can turn it into a profitable franchise."
Ainslie declined to say what percentage he and Bake own. It’s believed that the franchise fee is $20 million. Bake is a businessman as well as a sailor, having competed for years in the RC44 class, which was co-designed by Coutts.
Ainslie said he has time to run both an America’s Cup and SailGP team.
“SailGP to my mind is a must-have, a must- do in terms of competitive racing,” he said. “There’s nothing like it out there at the moment. We’ve got to racing at this level. I’m really pleased we made the effort to ensure we could compete, that we have the franchise. Without that you’d be scratching your head waiting for the next America’s Cup, wondering how you’re going to get competitive sailing in the meantime. There’s a lot of reasons why the two events complement one another and you absolutely need to be competing in both.”
Ainslie is a five-time Olympic medalist and the only sailor to win four gold medals. He was part of the Oracle Team USA crew that staged one of the biggest comebacks in sports history to retain the America’s Cup in 2013. Ellison owned that syndicate and Coutts was CEO of the sailing team.
After five of eight regattas, Ainslie’s team is currently in fourth place overall in SailGP.
“A lot of sports people play the sport really well but are never able to enter the business realm and now Ben’s clearly moving into the business side of the sport as well, which is fantastic,” Coutts said by phone. “That’s really exciting. It’s becoming a goal for some of the other top sailors as well.”
Follow Bernie Wilson on Twitter at http://twitter.com/berniewilson