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During the past twenty four years, Key West Race Week had grown to become the elite international keelboat competition in the United States. But the down economy had not been good for the event, and it was uncertain whether this classic would reach its 25th anniversary.
Event organizer Peter Craig, when asked last January about the plan for Key West Race Week 2012, he was hopeful but not confident. “The honest answer is that we must start with a blank sheet of paper and some creativity.” Well, in the past four months, Peter now likes what’s on the paper enough to commit to the 2012 regatta on January 16-20.
Here he shares the story on the decision:
What was the initial reaction from the industry and the sailors when you announced in January that KWRW 2012 might not occur?
Boat owners, sailors, industry representatives and some of the one design classes expressed real concern at the prospects of no Key West racing next January. Others called or emailed to encourage us and some to offer suggestions on a way forward. The most memorable was from Bouwe Bekking. Not only did I get a great pep talk, but also some well thought out input on the way forward, along with an offer to help with sponsorship including an introduction to a company he felt matched up with the event. Bouwe’s always giving back - the sport could use more like him.
You had talked in January about shortening the five day schedule. What changed your mind?
It just goes to show you that Event Organizers don’t have all the answers! After a concerted effort reaching out to individual boat owners and classes, it was interesting to find out that a surprising majority favored staying with the 5-day format. The most repeated reason was ‘bang for your buck’. Regatta costs would not be reduced significantly by shortening 1 day and when committing their resources, they would rather get the value that 5 days of racing delivers. It’s also a big plus for overseas players and those coming from the west coast. All that being said, we will look hard at a 4-day racing option on a class by class basis in 2013 - perhaps starting the racing on Saturday instead of the holiday Monday.
What were the primary elements that gave you confidence to commit to the 2012 event?
There were a number of factors that came into play - none bigger than the commitment made by Quantum Sails and their investment group. Filling the title sponsor void in 2012 is huge. For our Boston company to manage and execute an annual event of this magnitude 1,400 miles away with no yacht club infrastructure takes more than a few elements coming together. For our business model to work and attain the ultimate goal of sustainability - it will take a title sponsor, continued participation from the other sponsors, a successful Industry Partner Program and local support in the form of a meaningful tourism grant. We’re not where we need to be yet – but Quantum Key West Race Week sure has a nice ring to it.
Did you retain all of your 2011 sponsors?
We’re still in discussions with some, but I was encouraged enough to move forward. Lewmar/Navtec is back for their 11th consecutive year, B&G and Marlow have both committed, and Mount Gay Rum, with ties to Key West since 1988, is coming back. The sailing industry companies really are difference makers.
We hear a lot of talk these days about the importance of sponsorship. But there was a time when events survived just fine without it. What has changed?
Well a yacht club hosted, local weekend regatta has never really needed sponsorship - the infrastructure is in place. They have the clubhouse, race committee and RC Boats in place. A minimal entry fee to cover gas, lunches and trophies and you’re off to the races. That simply isn’t the case with a regatta like Key West - its apples and oranges. Transportation, housing for volunteers, creating your own shoreside venue, dockage for 22 support boats, etc. Key West has always needed sponsors and with a smaller fleet size - now more than ever before.
The 2012 event will be the 25th anniversary. How special will that be?
It will be my 19th year so it’s pretty special to me! With all that has changed in the world of sailing over that period of time and the challenges we’ve faced with the economy, handicapping rules, and locally - it’ll be rewarding to celebrate this milestone. As far as making it special - we’re working on some surprises and I promise some fun extras, but for now I’ll keep those under wraps. Any suggestions?
You run a business, and like any business, you must remain flexible to adapt to the market. How will that translate to the 2012 event?
Well, the market tells me that a meaningful segment still isn’t travelling to events that require considerable resources - time and money. So we need to make it work with a 120-150 boats fleet until that dynamic changes. We’ve certainly proven over the past 2 years that we can produce a great international regatta with competitive racing for that number of boats. As with the past 2 decades, we’ll continue to adapt and make it work from a business perspective. Part of the solution is diversifying here at Premiere Racing so all of our eggs aren’t in the Key West basket. We also need to partner with those classes and owners who will travel and work together with them to be sure we’ll achieve great competition in all classes next January. One example is an exciting new initiative featuring J/Boat specific handicap classes with our goal 2 classes with tight rating bands. J/Boats’ Jeff Johnstone is already playing a key role promoting and recruiting.
I haven’t seen much mention of PHRF racing for next year. Is Key West becoming a ‘grand prix’ regatta?
While we have a smaller fleet than we had a few years back and the grand prix classes end up being more visible, a look at the recent entry lists shows a great cross section of classes. Big boats / small boats, both grand prix and club racers are represented. With our J/80s, J/05s, small IRC Boats and new J specific handicap classes - that alone will make for over 60 non-grand prix boats in our 2012 fleet. We’re currently looking into a PHRF handicap range or ranges for classes that can produce good, competitive racing with class sizes that number 10-12 boats rather than 6-7.
May 19, 2011
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