The recent announcement of Land Rover as partners with Ben Ainslie Racing rather than sponsors is more significant than you might think.
At the first press conference to be held in Ben Ainslie Racing’s new purpose built base in the heart of old Portsmouth, Land Rover was announced as the BAR’s new partner. On the face of it the news was of the first major sponsor for Ainslie’s team, but both sides were keen to point out that that this was a partnership, rather than a sponsorship, deal.
According to Mark Cameron, Land Rover’s Global Experiental Marketing Director, [yes, I had to stop and think about that one too], is not a deal that’s about us simply providing money.
“In our business we are looking for marginal differences, in an America’s Cup campaign it’s the same,” he said. “So we’re really excited that this is real project focused on making a boat go faster.”
While the choice of words may sound like clever PR speak, once the presentations at the newly opened base in Portsmouth’s Camber Quay had finished a series of conversations with a number of those close to the heart of the team, including Ben himself, went to great lengths to confirm that this was as partnership with a difference.
To provide a serious contribution to the team’s campaign was clearly an important part of the deal. But what could a car manufacturer provide that would be of use to an America’s Cup team?
“It was clear from the last Cup that the future would be more about aerodynamics and control systems,” said Ainslie.
“In this field we have a huge amount of technical knowledge and computing power,” added Cameron. “Managing a Cup campaign is also about data management and this is also an area that we have developed in our vehicles.”
I’m told their input doesn’t stop there and that three key areas had been identified as aspects of the campaign in which Land Rover could offer BAR a helping hand.
But for those who were less interested in what they may have seen as mutually benevolent rhetoric and more interested in numbers, founding shareholder & chairman Sir Charles Dunstone had some numbers to indicate where the team was.
“Our campaign budget is £80million and we have already raised 75% of that target,” he said.
But like so many others in the team it was the building that really said it all, at least for the time being. Understandably proud of a base that is built as if it housed a Next and a Starbucks, the phrase that came out time and again was Statement of Intent. It does indeed sum up this building and the team behind it.
For all the earlier naysayers, as each week goes by the concrete evidence that this is a team with a single purpose in mind is becoming stronger.
Certainly a posh building and big words don’t guarantee success, this is a sport after all where anything can happen. But anyone having doubts as to whether this team can pull off the big one needs to talk to board member Sir Keith Mills for a few minutes.
“We’re here to won the America’s Cup,” he says, simple as that.
“This building and team is all about when we win the Cup,” he continued. “When we do it will be the beginning of our journey, not the end.”
You could argue that words are cheap and that this is just the kind of dialogue that you’d expect from a press conference fuelled by the excitement of moving into a huge new purpose built base less than 12 months after the idea was first muted.
But dig a little deeper and some of the details about what this building will house present a far clearer indication of how seriously detailed this campaign is.
Deep within the bowels of the building there is a control centre that will act as the telemetry base for all the data that streams off their boats. The idea is for the techies ashore to be able to monitor what’s going on aboard the boats in real time as if sitting at an F1 style pit wall. Being able to analyse the data in real time will allow the team to perform technical de-briefs as soon as the sailors return to shore.
But it doesn’t stop there.
Monitoring their boats anywhere in the world, whether racing or training, will be performed at the Camber Quay base as well. This might be common practice to BAR CEO Martin Whitmarsh, formerly of F1 McLaren fame, but to a sailing team this is a long way from wet notes and chinagraph pencils.
So what might have looked like a press conference to announce some new money was in fact an opportunity to reveal a little more about a campaign that is doing all it can to move the game in tick all the right boxes by looking to other technical sports for guidance.
And to those that have questioned whether the current British America’s campaign really has the means to commit to the Cup year itself in 2017, this week saw another part of the complex jigsaw slot into place.