Home » DeAndre Hopkins, Issa Rae, and More Celebs Just Bought the U.S. SailGP Team

DeAndre Hopkins, Issa Rae, and More Celebs Just Bought the U.S. SailGP Team

by multimill
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Next month, the sailors of SailGP, the flourishing global racing league, will board their foiling high-tech 50-foot catamarans to enthrall spectators and VIPs in the grandstands and pop-up lounges of Dubai’s Mina Rashid, as they did a year ago in spectacular sporting fashion. With 10 national teams set to race over two days, this seventh event of 12 is a critical midseason point for the professional drivers and crews longing to get their hands on the $7 million purse.

But noticeably absent from the starting lineup will be the league’s most revered skipper, Australian Jimmy Spithill, who just sold his U.S. SailGP Team to an eclectic entourage of American investors.

According to a league statement, the U.S. team was purchased by a group of owners and backers from “across technology, sport, entertainment, and media.” Given the wide-ranging, colorful list of professional and college athletes, moguls of technology and finance, that is an understatement.

World heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder

World heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder is among the new owners of the U.S. SailGP team.

SailGP

Tech entrepreneur Ryan McKillen and his wife, Margaret McKillen, both keen racing sailors based in Miami and Newport, Rhode Island, are noted as the primary owners, supported with investments from actor Issa Rae, world champion heavyweight boxer Deontay Wilder, DJ and producer Gryffin, and NFL stars DeAndre Hopkins, Malik Jackson, Roquan Smith, and Kayvon Thibodeaux.

The list goes on: University of Alabama football’s Dallas Turner, New England Revolution striker Jozy Altidore, and University of Michigan basketball’s Katelynn Flaherty Yates. From tech and finance sectors, Muse Capital founder Assia Grazioli, Richard Perna of Greenwich Advisory & Company, and VaynerMedia CEO Gary Vaynerchuk are also reported to be backing the team.

The new owners would not reveal how much each person is investing and declined to give a valuation of the team. The U.K. team “Emirates/ GBR announced a valuation of $40 million earlier this year, and the new U.S. deal far surpasses that,” said a rep for the new owners. “It’s the biggest deal in SailGP’s history.”

It’s an admittedly short history, launched in 2018 by Oracle chairman Larry Ellison and his America’s Cup–winning skipper Russell Coutts to turn sailing into a mainstream spectator sport, following a similar path as F1. The league’s 10 teams each represent their own countries. SailGP’s success has been patchy to date, with Ellison financially supporting many teams for the first five years. Besides the U.S. team, only three other teams are privately owned, which was the initial goal of the league.

SailGP US team

CEO Jimmy Spithill, far right, announced he was leaving to start another SailGP team in Italy. The Americans won the last event in Cadiz, Spain, but their record over the last four years has been spotty.

SailGP

The sport of sailing, with the exception of its pinnacle and unpredictable America’s Cup regatta, had long been dismissed as a sporting property with little commercial viability. But SailGP, with top-tier partners that include the likes of Rolex, Mudabala, Oracle, and Near, has given the sport a substantial boost in exposure, notoriety and fan following over four and a half seasons. The league’s stadium-style, high-speed format is a made-for-livestream sports property now reportedly broadcast in more than 200 markets.

But the fan and owner experience is what attracted investors and makes it unique, says Mike Buckley, U.S. SailGP Team’s newly anointed CEO.

“As the league gets more mature, we’ll see more and more sophisticated ownership groups come together,” Buckley says. “There’s great value in owning these teams and they see the potential of enormous growth with an emerging league. Over the last 20 years, sports [properties] have become one of the most sought-after asset classes out there. So, I think SailGP is now on the map to be one of those vehicles.”

Taylor Canfield, new driver for SailGP

Taylor Canfield (with flag) becomes the next driver for the US SailGP team.

SailGP

As a professional sailor himself, Buckley says the appeal of SailGP to his pro-athlete investors makes perfect sense—even if none of them have ever been on a sailboat before. “I think it’s been pretty well documented that athletes are looking to own things—they talk about being more than an athlete,” he says. “So, this is an opportunity for them—they’re all competitors—to invest in a sports team. We were very passionate about going outside the sailing community to bring new eyeballs, new ideas, new minds, and new ways of doing things to tie this to the mainstream audience.

“The pitch is quite simple,” he adds. “If you’re looking to invest in a media and entertainment platform that is also a professional sports team, we have a really cool option. It’s a professional sports team that happens to race sailboats at 50 to 60 miles an hour at events around the world.”

Having the bevy of athlete owners at the races, with their massive social-media followings in different segments, is also designed to introduce SailGP to the non-sailing world. The US team has 151,000 Instagram followers today, but the celebrity and athlete investors could bring more than 30 million followers.

US team SailGP

The fast-maneuvering, F50 foiling raceboats have provided the excitement for the close-quarters racing.

SailGP

Replacing Spithill on the wheels of the multimillion-dollar sailing catamaran in Dubai will be U.S. Virgin Islands native Taylor Canfield, a world champion who also resides seasonally in the sailing meccas of Miami and Newport, racing alongside his new boss Ryan McKillen. He doesn’t have Spithill’s cache, but he has a reputation as a fierce and vocal skipper. He joined the team at SailGP’s event in Spain, helped deliver its first win of the season, and gave his future backers a backstage view of the most technologically advanced sailing league ever created.

“Every person we’ve brought to these events have been amazed with the accessibility to the racing and how close it is, not only watching it live, but seeing the broadcast happen right in front of them,” Canfield told Robb Report. “At F1, the cars go around the track at 200 mph and they go by in like half a second. SailGP is an appealing platform in that you can really understand what’s happening on the water from basically being on the racecourse.”

While Canfield’s immediate goal is a simple one—to win races and build a team culture—Buckley’s is more global and long term. He and the team’s owners, he says, have the crown jewel of the SailGP fleet with an All-American team and five U.S. events held in major markets—including New York and Los Angeles. “I want to deliver three things,” says Buckley. “I want to deliver enterprise value to all of us. I want to change the sport off the water, to make it more accessible. And I want to win. I want to win the championship.”



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