Sir Ben Ainslie: Olympic sailor looking for $100m

2012 Olympics Image copyright Getty Images

The past few months have been something of a crash course in business for Sir Ben Ainslie, Britain's most successful Olympic sailor.

He has begun the process of raising $100m (£60m) to fund his dream of leading a British team in the America's Cup - the most prestigious competition in yacht racing.

"It's a huge amount of money to get the right designers, sailors together and get the right management in place. I'm working very hard on that," he says.

In September of last year Ainslie played a key role in helping Oracle Team USA regain the prize.

He now wants to build on that achievement and lead a British team to victory, something that has not happened in the 163 years since the first race was staged.


The next series of races is likely to be in 2017 and there's a good chance San Francisco will host the race again.

But the big question is, what kind of boats will they race?

The American winner and the official challenger from Australia are currently working on a protocol that will govern the design of the boats and other details, which should be published by March.

Image copyright Getty Images

The multi-hulled boats that competed in 2013 were operating at the cutting edge of sailing technology.

Even the best sailors in the world needed weeks of training to learn how to handle them.

And the technology made them expensive.

"The budgets last time round - they were pretty high. And the goal is certainly for them to come down, but we're starting with no illusions," Ainslie says.

While the boats themselves are eye-wateringly expensive, designing and building them would only account for about 30% of the budget.

Most of the rest of the funds would be spent on paying for and looking after the team, which could be up to 80-strong.

Billionaire backing

When it comes to paying for all of that, the Americans have an advantage.

Image copyright Getty Images

Larry Ellison is the man bankrolling the American team. His technology firm Oracle has made him a personal fortune of $43bn, according to Forbes magazine, making him the fifth richest man on the planet.

But Ainslie thinks that Ellison is unlikely to want a competition that is so expensive other teams cannot afford to join.

"I think he sees a bit of it as his legacy, so he wants to try to reduce the cost - obviously that needs to be done through changing the design of the boat to make it more cost effective," he says.

And there could be other factors that will help generate money for the next America's Cup.

Yacht racing has traditionally been a difficult sport to televise. To the amateur eye it is often not clear who is in the lead and what the crew is actually doing.

But that was not the case at the 2013 America's Cup. The boats themselves looked spectacular as they cruised metres above the surface of the water on hydrofoils.

And the latest TV technology made it easy for viewers to understand the race progress. Ainslie hopes that will be attractive for TV firms next time.

"I think they'll actually be able to sell it to the networks, rather than paying the networks next time round," he says.

The extraordinary nature of the US victory in the last America's Cup has also helped raise the profile of Ainslie and the series.

The American team appeared to be out of contention when the New Zealand challengers took an 8-1 lead.

Ainslie was brought in as tactician and Oracle Team USA went on to win eight races in a row to claim a 9-8 victory.

Home grown

A British challenge to the American team could be good for British business.

"As much as possible we want to help boost the British marine industry," Ainslie says.

He also thinks that Britain's expertise in motor racing could be a strength.

"In sports like Formula 1 there is the engineering background. That's certainly something we could learn from and tap into in some way."

As for the $100m target, Ainslie seems confident he can raise that kind of money.

He already has a team of 12 and the support of Sir Keith Mills, the man behind Air Miles and the Nectar loyalty card, and Charles Dunstone, the founder of Carphone Warehouse, who have long been supporters of yacht sailing.

Ainslie expects private investors such as those two to account for 35% of the investment and the rest to come from sponsorship.

It now promises to be an exhausting few months for the four-time Olympic gold medallist, who later in February heads off to Singapore to compete in the first race of the 2014 Extreme Sailing Series.

He also has a business to worry about, having just invested in a sports drink firm called SOS Rehydrate.

Oh, and there's the small matter of $100m to raise.

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