After being a Cup sponsor since 1983, Louis Vuitton is back and will be the title sponsor of all stages of the competition: from the America’s Cup World Series to the qualifiers, challenger playoffs and the America’s Cup match itself.
While the proclamation of a new event sponsor is very important to those closely involved, it is rarely headline news. But the confirmation this evening that Louis Vuitton is to return as a major sponsor of the America’s Cup is a very big deal indeed.
Having left the Cup world in 2007 after 25 years during which time the luxury goods brand became intrinsically linked with the Challenger Series in what was believed to be the longest running event sponsorship deal in sport, the departure of Louis Vuitton was a big blow to the Cup.
Although the company returned to the event in 2010 there were tensions between the sponsors and the organisers during the unstable period that followed. By the end of the 34th Cup in San Francisco in 2013 and following the death of company CEO Yves Carcelle, a long time AC supporter, the company’s future involvement in the Cup was in doubt.
For those that were against the move to high speed, foiling cats in the Cup, Louis Vuitton’s exit from the next cycle was seen as justification that the major Cup changes had backfired. The latest steps to bring foiling into the AC World Series and reduce the size of the Cup boats from 62 to 48 feet were seen as further indications of the end of the road for the world’s most prestigious sailing trophy. But not everyone agreed.
The move to multihulls for the 34th America’s Cup in San Francisco had been a contentious one from the outset and one that left many yearning for the days of expensive, heavyweight monohulls. But as the application of new technology saw huge leaps in performance elsewhere in the sport, the old Cup monohulls with a performance that would struggle to outpace a bicycle, seemed out of step with the modern age. After all, part of what has made the America’s Cup special since its instigation 162 years ago is that it has been an arena for the leading edge of design and technology. Even so, the naysayers claimed that the America’s Cup had been wrecked by this latest move.
But recent announcements would suggest that the broader commercial view of the Cup is not one of an event that is on its way out. Far from it.
A few weeks ago BT Sport and the BBC announced that they would be providing live coverage and highlight programmes (respectively) for the entire 35th AC cycle starting with the AC World Series in Portsmouth in July and running through to the Cup itself in Bermuda in June 2017.
Shortly before, French broadcaster Canal+ had announced that it had taken TV rights in more than 50 international territories, including France, Monaco and French-speaking Switzerland.
In addition and on the other side of the pond, NBC has the broadcast rights for the USA.
Such deals are a marked contrast to the last event when the AC organisers couldn’t give the rights away and indeed, had to buy time with at least one broadcaster to get the races aired. This time around each of the companies has paid to get the rights and while the financial details have not been revealed it is understood that the contracts are for decent amounts.
This surely paints a picture of growing confidence in the ability of the Cup to provide exciting sport that can be broadcast to a wide TV audience. The Louis Vuitton deal does more than simply add to the weight of the event. Returning to the new look, high speed, TV friendly Cup by a company that has seen a huge amount of change in over three decades is surely a vote of confidence in the new formula.
“It is a great honour for us to be able to renew our partnership with the America’s Cup. Together, we are about to write a new chapter of our shared history,” said Michael Burke, CEO of Louis Vuitton.
With five challengers and one defender signed up, a series of AC showcase events about to kick off and a financially based commitment to screen to racing to a wide audience by broadcasters who have paid for (rather than been given), the footage, it is difficult to see how this is an event in decline.
Sponsorship deals come and go, but this is a big one that has come back once again.