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America's Cup World Series Portsmouth - How to run a world-class sailing event.

With the competition for the oldest international sporting trophy, the America’s Cup, just around the corner, we sat down with Leslie Ryan, Director – ORIGIN Sailing, to chat about what it takes to deliver a major international sailing event. To get the full picture of what it takes to pull off an event of this scale, we have to start at the beginning. Leslie discusses what has been happening since the start of the project and the stage they have reached.

Leslie has over 20yrs experience working with world-class sailing events, including America’s Cup, Team GB Olympic sailing, SailGP, the Volvo Ocean Race, The King’s Cup and was responsible for delivering the 2015&2016 America’s Cup World Series (ACWS) in Portsmouth. The next event for ORIGIN to tackle is this year’s Emirates AWCS event that will be held on 4-7th June 2020 in Portsmouth. The series will see INEOS Team UK, Emirates Team New Zealand, Team American Magic and Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team in competition ahead of the chance to take on the defending champion, Emirates Team New Zealand, at the 36th America’s Cup in 2021.

We delve behind the scenes and gain some the insights into exactly what goes on in the planning and execution of a successful major sailing event.

Q: What has been ORIGIN Sports Group’s role in delivering the Emirates America’s Cup World Series Portsmouth (ACWS) in June 2020?

For this particular event we [ORIGIN] are contracted by Emirates Team New Zealand and the America’s Cup Event Organisation to be the Official Delivery Partner and therefore are extremely operationally focused. We are the team contracted to ‘make it happen’ on time and on budget.

At ORIGIN we take a ‘ground-up approach’. To build on and execute any major event, the foundations must be in place. I like to break it down into four major hubs. A) Sport - this is the primary element to consider, how do we make the actual sport happen B) Teams- how do we service the needs of the competing teams, their sailors and equipment C) Event Visitors - how do we deliver world-class fan experience to our guests, sponsors, visitors, fanbase; D) The TV/ Digital/Online – production, delivery and distribution of content globally

Q: What are the most important factors to consider when planning a major event?

With any big event it is important to split it into phases. Whilst these phases may well overlap this allows the project team to ensure the sequencing of activities is right. Making sure the planning is done in a methodical way guarantees nothing is missed.

One of the most important things is developing an understanding of what the event is going to look like, how it is going to work and where it is going to happen. The most important factor to consider here is making sure that everyone on the team knows all the key information regarding the event. This ‘big picture’ view allows the senior members of the organisation to manage their individual areas, whilst knowing they are all pulling in the same direction.

The second phase is the marketing of the event and maximising ticket sales. We aim to get the ticketing offer out to fans as quickly as possible and will use a range of channels to make the public aware. Our challenge is how do we encourage as many people as possible to come to Portsmouth to watch, rather than staying at home and watching on TV. To do this, we put together a comprehensive Media & Marketing Plan that details how we are going to build excitement about the race village and what the programme will be.

Next is the review of the sponsors and their requirements. There are multiple sponsorship layers involved with events like these. There are the four teams who each have their own sponsors; the America’s Cup own sponsors and the event title sponsor, Emirates. There are also likely to be further local partners to look after. It is crucial to get a handle on all the businesses involved with the event. I need to know everything from their plans to bring guests to whether they are wanting an exhibit in the race village.

Q: How do you go about getting the right team together and what expertise is needed?

The first job that needs to be done is to create an event structure detailing the key areas of responsibility. I split these into categories such as:

  1. On-Land Operations – this includes the suppliers for grand-stands, tents, security, and the team required to oversee the installation of all the infrastructure.

  2. On-the-Water Operations - skilled expertise essential for running a sailing event. I engaged Robert Andrews, who was the event director of sailing at the 2012 Olympic Games in Weymouth.

  3. Sales and Marketing – expertise needed to ensure guest and fans engagement throughout the event.

Once I had a detailed structure of who and what expertise I required, I compiled a core team of six. I have a core squad of world class contacts that I have worked with before, minimising the initial learning curve and subsequently allowing the planning of an event to get up and running quickly.

The core team is involved in the planning and set-up. Closer to the event the team will expand to around fifty to sixty people. This will include everyone from exhibitors and caterers, to people running the volunteer programme. The team will then shrink back down to the core group for a post event wrap up.

Q: Has the increased availability of online viewing platforms affected the event?

We want mass crowds to attend the event. It is important to think about exactly why people will want to make the effort to travel to see the event live. I think having multiple platforms on which to view the event is fantastic as it builds awareness and interest in the sport. Our job is to harness that interest and create an event that people want to come and experience live.

It is important that fans get to see the sailors and technology up close. Our objective is to excite and enthuse people enough to want to be in the middle of the action. Watching from home is just not the same as feeling the atmosphere of the event and seeing the scale and power of the AC75s first-hand. Nearer to the event, the details of how to watch and follow the action will be posted. This year will see the event broadcasted on more viewing platforms than ever before, however nothing can beat the live sporting experience in my view.

Q: How do you advertise these events and keep people interested?

Nowadays it is mainly all social media outreaches that are used to ensure a broad audience engagement.

Although the America’s Cup already has its own global fanbase and database, ORIGIN can use a range of marketing partners to promote the event to an even wider audience. We use these partners’ networks to advertise to people who would never normally be targeted for a sailing event. Organisations based near the location of the event want to be involved, to ensure they maximise the benefits of having an event of this scale in their local area. Local organisations that have been keen to be a part of this event include the Emirates Spinnaker Tower, Hovertravel, Brittany Ferries and Gunwharf Quays to only name a few.

The principle marketing strategy we employ is imagery and pictures from previous events to show people what to expect. We contracted a local artist to create a promo poster to market the event around Portsmouth and use it as a platform to showcase the venue and its surrounding landmarks such as Southsea Castle and the Emirates Spinnaker Tower. As well as photos from our previous 2015/16 ACWS events we can also use images from this year’s ACWS in Cagliari [23-26th April 2020). CGI has been a particularly useful tool when envisioning how the race village will look and also in showcasing the new AC75 yachts to fans.

Q: How do sustainable and green initiatives drive your approach to running an event?

ORIGIN has a commitment to host the most sustainable events possible and therefore a sustainable approach is implemented in all aspects of the event. This particular event [AWCS] will focus on minimising the use of plastics with no single-use plastic allowed into the race village. If people intend to bring their own water, it must be contained in a reusable bottle.

The materials used in the production and assembly of all branding platforms around the venue will be reusable or recyclable. Also, the catering onsite will all be provided by companies that use sustainably sourced food products and will be served in eco-friendly packaging.

Q: Were there any complications with past events, how were these overcome and what have you learnt from them?

The most important factor to be aware of is the weather. I suppose this is a key element of most sporting events but particularly crucial when dealing with an outdoor event that solely relies on the wind and water to provide the primary attraction. The yachts racing in the ACWS are highly reliant on the weather and will only race if the wind speed is between their minimum and maximum thresholds under the rules. We always have a professional meteorologist on the team which allows us to make informed decisions, as to whether we should cancel, postpone or move an event forward. For example, we were warned that the wind for the 2019 King’s Cup was too strong and made the decision to bring the whole event forward by a day. Whilst not ideal, this limited the impact of the weather on the event, ensuring people’s safety and that our commercial partners were happy.

It is crucial to have a detailed plan in place prior to any event on how to effectively manage the possible complications that could occur.

Managing the expectations of sponsors can be tough, especially when you are dealing with major brands. One thing I have learnt from my past events is that it is essential to be clear on the sponsors’ requirements and what they are expecting to get out of the event. Meeting with the brands and discussing their ideas is essential. However, you should also look at any major sporting events that the brand has sponsored in the past. There can sometimes be clashes between all the different brand’s demands and you must always be prepared for sponsors to decide or change their requirements last minute

Q: At What Stage of the Event Planning are you at now?

Tickets are currently live. Early Bird tickets will be on offer during February, with 15% off the full ticket price. We are also preparing for all the teams and their boats who are set to arrive in Portsmouth on May 18th. Once all the teams have arrived there will be a build up with a number of events that allow fans to engage with the different teams and their sailors before the main event begins.

This event will be a one-off opportunity as the ACWS is not held annually. Primarily the sailing aspect will be front and foremost, but we do want this series in Portsmouth to be more than just a sailing event. The event will appeal to families and friends as there will be plenty of fun and activities to get involved in over the days of the event.

Tickets Available Here:

The America’s Cup Official Website:

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