Since the last update on the World Match Racing Tour, which prompted a mixed reaction in the forum, there have been a lot of changes and some milestone events. The latest was an over hyped press conference last week in London, UK , during which they announced – well, practically nothing new!

Fact is, the World Match Racing Tour has been firmly sidelined after the AC announcement to switch to cats , and is facing up to the new age of being largely irrelevant. This press conference was the latest in a series of efforts to try and position themselves as the ONLY alternative to catamaran racing, and the only circuit where ‘upcoming’ talent can practice their match racing skills. It’s always billed itself as the America’s Cup training ground, but that certainly rings hollow now, and they appear to be floundering in a crowded market place.

With the America’s Cup in big Cats, and with a new World Series that will consist of both fleet racing and match racing in AC45’s, where does that leave a mono circuit, which they reaffirmed is their sole choice today with no move to twin hulls (hey they had no other option), especially one that now faces the ever growing presence of the RC44 circuit on the world stage (which also mixes fleet and MR), the resurgence of interest in the TP52 ‘s, and the commitment from Audi with the Audi MedCup circuit. It’s not going to be easy for the WMRT to find any place willing to stage events given the funding available. And then there’s the Extreme 40 series who must be ecstatic at the Cup’s move, as it makes them extremely relevant and suddenly very attractive .

One of the comments in the forum after the last WMRT piece said that people shouldn’t be ‘shooting the goose that lays the golden egg’ after talking about the possible investment available for the Tour, and a response to it from a reader was, ‘what if there is no gold? ‘. Sources on the inside say that is quite prophetic, as having boasted of buying the Tour with a clutch of backers to underwrite the acquisition, and some 5 million dollars plus to invest into it, new owners Peter Gilmour from Australia, and Patrick Lim from Malaysia, have had to privately admit that in fact, there are no investors.

Apparently none were committed ‘in stone’ ahead of the deal ‘going down’, as 40% of the stake in the Bermuda based ‘holding’ company is owned by the Match Race Association (MRA) as outlined previously, and logically, Lim needed most of that for the new investors stake. Now that Gilmour and Lim have pissed off the MRA members so badly , they can’t cut a deal, and the investors have vanished – if they were ever there in the first place, as some say it was all a clever ploy to buy the Tour and impress the event promoters with a big money promise.

But clearly there is some cash floating around, which allegedly Lim is providing from his own pockets. Many of the debtors report being paid off from 2009, and some loud noises have been coming from the ‘ army ‘ of PR people that attended every regatta this year, who flood the websites and magazines with mountains of ‘good news’ stories. And, there’s a story – it was heavyweight sponsorship company and PR outfit Fasttrack from UK, who began the season employed by the Tour, working on the ‘message’ and creating much of the output, alongside the in-house Malaysian PR team . However, they were recently replaced by another company, Captilize, to take over the PR output. So did Fasttrack jump or were they pushed? Word says, ‘it was a bit of a mare’, which is a Brit way of not saying just how bad things became after a fall-out, according to sources.

Or was it the appointment of the Tour’s new CEO, Jim O’Toole that precipitated this? With much fanfare, Mr O’Toole was held up as what Lim and Gilmour no doubt hope will be the guy who starts to dissipate the angst caused thus far by their takeover, and begin moving forward with the ‘vision’ that Lim was peddling last year. O’Toole seems to have a good track record, but maybe didn’t do his homework quite as well as he might have done. Does he know what he’s walking into – the background with the disenfranchised event promoters, the Louis Vuitton saga over using words and infringing WMRT’s contract with ISAF and the rest? Can he take the heat and handle it, or will his own, (one presumes), powerful CEO personality, actually clash with that of his employers? Best bet thus far is that he lasts 6-8 months….

Up super early to watch this much vaunted occasion in UK last week, and suitably impressed with the presenter who is a well known TV personality for Formula 1 on Brit TV – must have cost huge $$ . The online show then started to falter with some weird live coverage, and seemingly the budget didn’t stretch to being able to play the videos directly to the internet feed , as a camera was used to film the project or screen in the room, which for long periods of time had a large bald head in shot, and kinda killed the glossy presentation. Then O’Toole stood up to lead, and it started to go further south.

His faltering presentation announced pretty much zero in fact, aside from a bidding process that would add 6 more events by 2013. Yeehar. In fact he did little to build any confidence in this Tour surviving much longer. So the target is 15 events in 3-years time, but no announcements about any new events actually joining the Tour next year. That assumes of course, the existing events stay on board too. But where was the ‘big’ news we were all expecting? It was a big disappointment following all the exciting buzz from the America’s Cup of late.

One positive was the announcement to double the pool prize fund to $500,000, next year which is fantastic for the Tour Card holders who bid to get their tickets (and presumably that’s coming from Mr Lim’s pockets, or is the bill going to be added to the event promoters in sanction fees as they fear?) As one blogger noted , embarrassingly on the Tour’s own site, ‘ mate they aren’t saying anything than what they said this time last year at bermuda ’, which in retrospect, is pretty much right on, followed by another comment from a guy in Asia who stated, ‘I dont see any great or impacting changes’, and another replied, ‘nope its all propaganda’. It’s hard to argue with that stinging analysis from the public viewpoint.

Another blogger who has been stirring up some notoriety by being super critical of Coutts and Co over the AC developments, summed up the conference as follows: ‘So the world match racing tour WMRT news is not really news, but should provide some certainty and stability to the sport of sailing.’ Given recent posts, it was a remarkably sedate analysis of the day, but then again, having delved deeper into the background , it appears they too have an apparent vested interest as the promoter of the Mirsky Racing team, and thus back monohulls, the Tour, and presumably the opportunity of some future revenue. Again, go figure, nothing is as it seems!

But what an introduction O’Toole has faced. Last month the World Tour sent out perhaps their least verbose Press release of the year, no doubt sanctioned by Mr O’Toole, which reads as follows:

‘London, UK – 23 August 2010 – The World Match Racing Tour regrets to announce that The Qingdao Match Cup has been cancelled after the local organizing authorities were unable to commit to hosting the event.
Despite an agreement having been concluded in June 2010 the local authorities have been unable to meet the requirements outlined by WMRT. WMRT remains committed to the expansion and development of the world championship series and continues its discussions with potential cities.’

Hell –that’s a massive blow on many counts, not least because it hurt the sailors who had already booked their tickets to the event (will the Tour reimburse?), and certainly damages the Tour’s credibility at being able to manage their negotiations convincingly. The PR announcement earlier in the year was substantially different, crowing over the new addition to the Tour in China and the huge prize money. What’s more, Lim was on stage just a couple of days earlier before O’Toole’s bombshell, bigging up the event, can you believe it, at the Qingdoa International Sailing Week, saying just how good the event would be and how the Tour is continuing to expand!

That’s surely a kick to Gilmour and Lim’s egos. And why was it cancelled? Well, word from reliable sources is that the Tour wanted to charge the organizers in excess of a million bucks in sanction fees, TV costs, prize money and expenses….which is apparently, spectacularly more than any other event on the Tour, and the organizers wised up. You’d sure wanna be a fly on the wall for that discussion!

Not the first time that’s happened this year either. Vietnam was added as a venue back in February, when a long press release announced Rainbow International as the event promoters. The Tour’s PR read ‘ With expected media and television highlights coverage of over one billion households in over 100 countries around the world, the Tour will revolutionize Vietnam’s tourism industry and propel the country into the limelight across the globe’. (yeah, right…).

And set out very plain objectives for the Tour, ‘ It is our aim to expand the WMRT especially in Asia, and Vietnam is our third destination after Pulau Duyong in Malaysia, and Hwasung City in the Gyeonggi Province of South Korea,” Gilmour added. “The Asian events have really taken the Tour to a new level of achievement and I expect to see continued growth across the Middle East and Asia for the Tour”.

The event was scheduled for September and appeared on the Tour calendar, then mysteriously was dropped around June without even a word being said or announced. Tour card sailors were apparently told that the money and guarantees had not been paid by Vietnam – go figure yet again!

So following the cancellation of Vietnam, and then Quingdao, that’s a double blow for Gilmour after his statement, especially as so much importance has been put on the ‘new’ Asian events by him and Lim. They own the Monsoon Cup event, and will no doubt do anything to keep the Korean event organizers sweet, which is now 3-years old, offers the second biggest prize fund of the Tour, and is also the only other event on the Tour with live TV. Will WMRT be renamed the Asian World Match Racing Tour, based on Gilmour’s quoted PR ambitions, especially after his derisory comments in public about many of the Tour promoters, i.e. the yacht clubs and smaller regattas. Without them , the Tour would have been a sham this year, and they are left with the same nine events as 2009 after the cancellations in Asia, the very same events they are trying to replace and squeeze financially, based on reports filtering in, with bigger sanction fees probably on the way .

Back to the MRA, (which represents all the event organizers), and their AGM held in Sweden last July during Match Cup Sweden. This was a apparently a beaut. Those involved report that long time MRA President, Morten Lorenzen, respected businessman, CEO of the Royal Danish Yacht Club, organizer of the Danish Open – resigned. He’d been heading up ‘negotiations’ with Lim and Gilmour over the MRA’s 40% of Pro Match Tour (60% owned by Lim and Gilmour –The Tour holding company that has the ISAF contract), which reached an impasse and were going nowhere, to the point that relations had apparently broken down.

Normally, the MRA Vice-President, Eberhard Magge from Match Race Germany, would take over the Presidency and would be a shoe-in. However, this time, the Monsoon Cup representative, hey guess who – Peter Gilmour, suggested it should go to a vote as he wished to propose a candidate, which is almost unprecedented in this close knit group. Gilmour proposed the Portugal Match Cup organizer Mr Sa Machado, and a ‘rat’ was duly smelt. There has to be a long ‘back story’ here too, due to his event allegedly facing $ troubles and owing the Tour money, then suddenly being able to stage a big event in a new venue this year, and surprise, Gilmour backs him as the new President. Again, go figure.

The vote went with Magge, but Gilmour evidently went so far as to question the MRA’s rules and constitution on eligibility and more – and yet again, did nothing to enamor himself and his organization with the MRA members, in what is reported as a long, drawn out and bitter meeting.
Bottom line: an attempted (and poorly managed) coup to gain control of the MRA, thus enable an influence over that ‘elusive’ 40% ownership…

So an expensively staged (notably, in a hospital in London? Was this, (obvious pun) because the Tour is in need of emergency treatment?) press conference that announced not that much in the end, certainly nothing ground breaking . It possibly did more to underline the weak position they are in while being squeezed by all the other circuits out there, especially the new America’s Cup World Series. For sure AC will have no qualms dumping their events right on top of any Tour regattas that happen to be in the way in terms of date clashes. Stuart Alexander, the venerable British journalist, asked online if the Tour was going to compare calendar dates with all the other circuits? There was no answer, but without saying it, neatly underlined the issues facing the Tour with perhaps the weakest proposition of all, especially if going to the same cities the AC and the others are approaching for funding to stage events through their ‘bidding’ process .

The controversial Tour Card bidding is also going to be the same for next year. This was announced via the live online blog, when Anne Hinton asked the question, and the moderator answered by saying nothing would change. So you’ll have a clutch of sailors paying the Tour to compete, and almost guaranteed to win back their entry from the Tour pool prize money. And none of them will be AC teams. Ben Ainslie has been the most credible, part-time entrant on the Tour this year, the rest, good sailors sure , but as Torvar Mirsky said today in the press conference, ( having been used by the organizers as one of the fresh young ‘faces’ of the Tour, along with Minoprio, and interestingly, the new Women’s MR Champ Lucy MacGregor from UK ) , his ambition is still an America’s Cup ticket, which rather deflates the whole message of the WMRT in ‘seizing the void’ left by the AC’s move to cats.

What next? No new events added to the Tour as yet, a year down the track; disenchantment with many event organizers at the way negotiations have been managed; a new CEO on board, but no investors in the background, and no agreement with the MRA on the future ownership of the Tour; and now it’s been made largely irrelevant by the AC switch to two hulls – so what future does the WMRT realistically have?

The bet is there are still some more twists and turns in this, to be truthful, sadly depressing story, still to come, and the next most obvious question is, how long before Lim gets bored with his new toy and all the angst that seems to have come with it? Who the hell has been advising this guy?