Friday, 9 November 2012

Sir Keith plans his coup d'etat

There were only a couple of French journalists at Sir Keith Mills’ new launch in Les Sables d'Olonne this morning which was surprising bearing in mind that our favourite squillionaire is planning a coup d’etat that could turn French sailing on its head.

Keith’s plans are ambitious, requiring the sort of resources (ie cash!) that very few in the sailing business have access to but if they come off, they will give IMOCA sailing a massive boost which could make a big difference to the sport the world, except maybe in France.

Just in case you didn’t hear, Keith has persuaded all 90 members of IMOCA to sign away the commercial rights to the class in return for a heavy investment of several millions of euros to get the class organised, properly funded and all buffed and booootiful so that sponsors come knocking.

Before he set up his new company Open Sports Management, he said he needed unanimous backing from the IMOCA members and he got it even though it means these short-handed affairs, which have been a strictly French preserve since the year dot, might no longer be dominated by the French. Oh la la!

So now he is putting together a hotshot events and commercial team to promote the class around the world, possibly expand the IMOCA event schedule and try and put a stamp of certainty on the whole circuit.

In an interview I did with him on Wednesday, he spoke loosely of how he aimed to do this: Here goes......

“We are going to try and package this sport up in a way that will make it more appealing to a broader audience,” Mills said.

“If we can engage a large number of people, we can get more sponsors interested and if we have more sponsors, we can get more teams funded.

“If there are more teams, more ports want to have you so it is a virtuous circle but it starts with making the product much more accessible. At the moment, sailing is not so accessible so we have to use more technology on the boats and package it up in a way that has never been done before.”

He is convinced he is onto something.

“I wouldn’t be investing millions of euros into a project if I didn’t think it was commercially viable and if I didn’t think it could succeed.”

Not all Keith’s businesses turn to gold but most of them do and the ones that look flawed from pretty early on, such as Team Origin, get shelved pronto.

Incidentally, he told me the story over how the decision to pull the plug on TO unravelled. If you remember, he was in Paris having a meeting with Sir Russell Coutts on the Monday night and reports suggested that when he left, he was all gung-ho about the next America’s Cup and definitely up for it.

Next morning however, we were shocked to hear that Team Origin was no more and had been disbanded. 

But whatever happened to cause such a sudden volte face?

Well apparently Keith recorded the whole meeting and when he got home to London, he sat down with a large whisky and listened to the recording and realised what he’d heard that night was nothing more than a load of bull. 

OK, those are my words not his but the tape made him realise how little substance there was to the AC presentation so in the morning, he rang his chum Charles Dunstone, who had also committed to load up the Team Origin coffers and told him what he’d found. That’s fine by me, said Charles so two hours later, everyone was called in and given the bad news.

That’s what I like about Sir Keith. He’s a no bullshit sort of bloke who puts his money where his bouche  is....and grabs it back when other bouches will not ferme! Bit like Sir Larry really.....which makes us wonder when he’ll be pulling his plug!

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