Last March, with the country half blocked, a slice of Italy had suddenly become an early riser, indeed almost monastic: he got up at 4 in the morning, the same time when in the Middle Ages the friars woke up for the Laudi Mattutine. But no prayers in this case: thousands logged on Rai Due or Sky Sports to watch a live broadcast on the other side of the world. At twelve hours of time zone, and at the antipodes of the New Zeland, in Hauraki Gulf, the 36th was disputed America’s Cup. The tricolor boat Red Moon challenged the title holder, the New Zealander Emirates. The cup that all sailors dream of was assigned “to the best” of 13 races (then reduced to 10 due to problems related to the pandemic): the fulminated start of Luna Rossa, with 3 victories in the first 5 races, made one caress the idea that the Italians could undermine the title. But when at the sixth regatta, the Italian boat of Prada is Pirelli she misses a maneuver and is overtaken by Emirates, it is clear that the crucial opportunity has been missed and that Luna Rossa would not have made it: “I still can’t sleep there at night” he begins Max Sirena, guest of the Business Club Italy, London club directed by Sidney Ross is Giovanni Sanfelice, which brings together the Italian business community of London.
Niche sports and weight of sponsors
Siren, cognomen omen one would say, it is skipper of Luna Rossa that made Italians enthusiastic and passionate, twenty years after the same Luna Rossa of Prada and thirty years from Moor of Venice of Raul Gardini: Max from Rimini, but now Sardinian by adoption in his beloved “Cagliarifornia”, is the spiritual heir of Paul Cayard. “We made a wrong maneuver, but in those situations you decide instantly, there is no planning, everything is played in a fraction of a second”. Despite his insomnia, he has little to regret: “With a final of 10 races in the end the best always wins, and New Zealand was technically superior, they were faster” admits the skipper. Sailing as a romantic idea linked to the magic of the sea is pure suggestion. Today, the America’s Cup is an industry of millionaire investments, research and technology, sponsorship and commercial interests. If Italy made it to the final it was thanks to two very important sponsors, such as Prada and Pirelli. And behind the sci-fi boat, which rose from the water, there was the unknown induced of many Italian SMEs that have each provided a piece of technology. For Sirena, however, the real enemy to beat is not New Zealand, but football.
America’s Cup vs World Cup
Sirena thinks as an entrepreneur and has an ambitious plan: to contend for the scepter of public attention, and therefore of the big investors and the media, to the ball. Almost impossible mission, admits the skipper himself: «Football has billions of fans all over the world. And that hard core was built in over a century ». The ball has one more weapon: it is a very competitive sport where the personality of the individual makes the difference: Cristiano Ronaldo Docet. In sailing, on the other hand, «as in Formula One, the difference is made by the means». Easier to build cheer and following for one person than for a car. However, the same Grand Prix attracts millions of fans around the world, and the reason is that, like football, competitions are frequent. The problem is that the America’s Cup, which is also the oldest sporting trophy in the world, born in 1851, is like the World Cup: it takes place every few years (in the case of sailing, the cadence is not even regular). And between one America’s Cup and another there are no seasonal races or championships. And this gap of years, in the super-fast age of social media, dwindles the cheering and attention. There is also another problem: there are no defined rules. «The winner of each trophy sets the rules for the next edition». Uncertainty is the biggest obstacle for sponsors who can’t plan. A more frequent formula has to be found.
The dilemma of TV rights
While waiting for a new program, in order to increase the interest of the public, we tried to reach the widest possible audience: Rai and Sky broadcast the America’s Cup for free, because in turn they received the TV rights for free. “We have decided to give away the rights, without collecting anything,” explains Sirena. In a market where the Premier League sells its games for over € 5 billion, Luna Rossa’s decision seems Martian. But it makes sense: “If the TVs had to pay us, they probably wouldn’t even have broadcast anything and already in this way they had to incur high costs”. The move served to “raise awareness of the sport and create a base of fans and enthusiasts”. From this point of view, goal achieved. With the free rights, the Vela has entered as many houses as possible. “Maybe it was a mistake not to make us pay, but sailing can’t expect football money.” Unfortunately it is, and still remains, «a super-niche sport», but it has a great appeal: the new boats, futuristic hulls that rise above the water, are highly scenographic and therefore very “television”. The commercial effects are there: every time Italy has reached the final with Prada, the Luna Rossa clothing line has made a boom in sales. This time, the watch house was also in the wake Panerai, which has produced special models. And there was also a furniture company, Sirena recalls, which asked Luna Rossa to be able to create furnishings and furniture inspired by the boat. It won’t be yet CR7 laying next to the Ferrari, but the road is the right one.