Insiderís View of the Americaís Cup: An Interview with Harkenís Bill Goggins
Sail America News interviewed Harken’s Commercial Manager and Sail America Board Member Bill Goggins’ about the company’s long-standing association with the legendary America’s Cup. Goggins provides keen insight into the varied benefits of the partnership and the major economic impact of the overall event.
What is your company's participation specifically in the America's Cup? Is this the first time you've participated, or is this an ongoing initiative?
For the 2007 Cup in Valencia, Harken is the supplier of all winch and hardware systems for 11 of the 12 syndicates – including the challenger and defender. The only team we didn’t have our gear on was the Chinese Team.
Harken has been involved with the America’s Cup since the mid- seventies, where we first developed our Torlon Big Boat blocks for Pelle Petterson and his 12 Meter Sverige. Like most things, we started with an innovation, and created an environment for success to build on itself. The breakout year for Harken and the America’s Cup was 1995, when we decided to enter the America’s Cup Winch game so that we could supply all fittings to the teams.
Prior to that in 1993, Peter Harken met with (Sir) Peter Blake who was heading up the new young team known as Team New Zealand, helmed by Russell Coutts. At the time, Harken had recently hired on winch engineer Bill Ottoman (formerly of Barient) who had some breakthrough ideas that we continue to develop from today. We wanted to get these winches on a few AC boats. In the meeting between Blake and Harken, Peter Blake asked Peter Harken, “So tell me this: the other guys have given me a guarantee that there will be no problems with their winches for the duration of the Cup…can you give us the same guarantee?” Harken looked Peter Blake in the eyes and said, “No……I’m sorry, but no one can guarantee perfection, but we can guarantee that we’ll do everything in our power to get you the best we can and keep you on the water. We’ll work 24-7 if necessary. But guarantee perfection? Sorry, but nobody’s perfect.”
Peter Blake liked his answer. And so Harken entered the America’s Cup as a complete supplier of winches and hardware systems for Team New Zealand, who then went on to win the Cup and bring it to Auckland for 2000 and 2003. In 1995, Harken’s other fully equipped boat (winches and hardware) was Mighty Mary that was sailed by Dennis Connor in the finals, because he felt the boat was superior to his Stars and Stripes. Since 1995, every defender and challenger for the America’s Cup has been 100% equipped with Harken winches and hardware systems. We’ve worked hard to earn that position.
Why did your company choose to become involved?
The America’s Cup is about innovation and R&D. R&D is Harken’s lifeblood.
What direct benefits do you expect to enjoy as a result of your participation?
There are two categories. First, our product development teams have gained decades of experience in working hand-in-hand with the top 11 syndicates intimately on R&D. These innovations and experiences all translate to superior products for all sailors via trickle-down of technology.
Second, the America’s Cup has recently been determined to be the third largest sporting event in the world behind the FIFA World Cup and the Olympics. Can you think of a more prime opportunity for marketing your brand as an authentic, leading-edge supplier in our sport?
What lessons have you learned already in your partnership/promotion?
If you’re looking for professionalism in the sailing business there is nothing compared to the America’s Cup. All partnerships are as carefully weighed as the boats and gear…and considered equally as valuable. We’ve learned a lot from the AC, and this experience provides us with an advantage as we plan for the future for sure.
What impact do you believe the America's Cup has on the U.S. market?
I’m uncertain if there is a strong impact on the US domestic market as a result of the AC. It certainly has become an internationally-flavored event since 1983 when the cup left Newport and went to Fremantle. But the America’s Cup hasn’t left Americans behind in the least:
It is clear that there are some strong American companies (all Sail America Members) that are benefiting significantly from this event – North Sails, Hall Spars and Harken to name a few. There also are some strong American sailors that are in critical positions on the top teams – sailors like Ed Baird (Alinghi), Terry Hutchinson and Mark Mendelblatt (TNZ), and Andy Horton and Brothers Jonathan and Charlie Mckee (Luna Rossa).
Lastly, the media coverage has been relatively strong – I’ve read about the AC in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the International Herald Tribune, USA Today and Sports Illustrated and of course the famous Versus Channel Cable live televised coverage has been great. These types of media impressions present sailing to the non-sailing marketplace. There is always a potential upside - if our industry is able to respond.”
What type of trickle-down technologies might we expect to see as a result of the America's Cup?
“From Harken, you can expect to see a lot from the lessons we learned in the AC to be applied to innovative products that will be introduced to you over the coming years. You will see innovation from Harken in the hydraulics world. You will see innovation from Harken in the winch world. You’ll see a few new things from us in blocks as well! Beyond product trickledown though, you also will continue to see Harken’s global team endeavor to provide AC level service at all levels of our business – to boat builders and shops the world over.”
What insider's perspective have you gained from your involvement?
“I was at a Louis Vuitton Party a few years ago and was talking with Jonathan Mckee when we learned that when they run out of beer at parties in the AC world, the back-up is Moet Champagne. It isn’t Milwaukee’s finest, but it’ll have to do.
Beyond that, the perspective of the AC that we have at Harken is a unique one. We’ve learned that the real America’s Cup is a lot of hard work. And it isn’t all that glamorous from our side. To quote Peter, “When you enter the AC, you enter the bullring – be prepared for anything.” We always try to be prepared for anything and always leave our egos at the door – but that’s easy for guys from Pewaukee.”
Anything else of interest to the industry based on your experiences to date?
“Economic Impact: I mentioned earlier that the AC is the third largest event behind the World Cup and the Olympics – ahead of Formula One. Tom Cannon, an expert analyst commissioned by Allianz, figures that the AC generates between eight and nine Billion
dollars in one cycle. That’s billion with a B. There has to be opportunity for our industry inside of this statistic. For starters, premier marinas will continue to be built for every event – why can’t these be accepted by the local marine industry as huge opportunities after the departure of the Cup? Leveraging the real opportunities will require some vision from us as an industry. But beyond that, it isn’t about talking up good ideas – it’s about acting on a few of them and making realities. We’ll see.”