Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Ben Ainslie - Sponsorship key to my Olympic campaign

Sponsorship is a hugely significant element in being able to sustain a bid for success in any sport so I'm extremely grateful to J.P. Morgan Asset Management who have agreed to extend their title sponsorship of my Finn sailing campaign until 2012.

They have supported me since 2007 and the importance of developing close relationships with key partners can't be underestimated at whatever level you're at because of the amount of flexibility it can give you in your campaign.

As a kid coming up through Optimists I didn't really have any sponsorship except the odd local council or Sports Aid grant, which were obviously very welcomed and helped, but the parental support was massive.

When I was about 15, I started off, like most kids, writing what seemed like thousands of letters to people asking for sponsorship expecting the offers to come flooding in! I quickly realised in reality it doesn't work like that and, particularly when you're starting o ut, nothing beats working on the contacts you have like family and friends and pinpointing specific targets. The personal touch is everything and making people feel properly involved and valued makes all the difference.

My first real experience of that came when I was on the plane on the way to the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 and I got talking to a guy about what I was doing. He knew nothing about sailing and nothing about me but seemed genuinely interested. Shortly after a cheque for £500 arrived in the post to help my campaign, which was a really nice thing to happen and showed me how effective just talking to people can be.

After Atlanta I landed my first real sponsorship through an insurance company called Colonial who also supported three other British Olympians - swimmer Paul Palmer, athlete Denise Lewis and rower Greg Searle. For the first time I had the resources to give me a bit more flexibility when making decisions about my programme, for example l ike where and when I wanted to train.

Since those days I've always tried to build strong relationships with my sponsors as I want them to feel like they've been part of any success I've had. Also, it's important they understand that especially in a sport like sailing where there are so many disciplines and challenges, you may not always be concentrating on the discipline they are supporting you in.

J.P. Morgan Asset Management have been great in that way as they completely respect my commitment to Britain's America's Cup cause and know their sponsorship allows me to as good as leave my Finn campaign in the hands of my coach David Howlett, who is cracking on with making sure we're getting together all the equipment we want and are as prepared as possible for when I get back in the boat full-time.

I'm looking forward to a training week we've got planned in Valencia with Rafa Trujillo and a few of the other international Finn boys next month. It'll be great to check in with what they've been up to for the past 18 months as well as getting a bit more sailing fitness and race sharpness under my belt.

While I'm over in Valencia I'm hoping to catch what we hope will finally be the America's Cup Deed of Gift match between the holders Alinghi and the challengers BMW Oracle Racing. The whole America's Cup's been a huge frustration for the past two years as we've waited to see what was going to happen, discover when and where this race would take place and begin planning our TEAMORIGIN campaign in earnest for the 33rd or 34th America's Cup.

There's still wrangling over the Alinghi sails, which could still impact on the scheduling of the Deed of Gift match, and there's the real possibility that if Alinghi win the outcome will be challenged once again in the courtroom.

But I, like most people, just hope we can finally get a conclusion to this whole episode and move on. It is incredibly frustrating and ridiculous tha t we're still in this situation almost three years since the last America's Cup took place.

Earlier this month I was delighted to present the awards to the 2009 RYA Regional Young Sailor of the Year winners at the London International Boat Show and it was great to see Phil Sparks, who is someone I know from Lymington and who I spent a bit of time with when he was in Oppies, be named overall Young Sailor of the Year with his crew Ben Gratton.

Congratulations also to see my old mates Iain Percy and Andrew 'Bart' Simpson on winning the Star Worlds in Brazil. They'd never won that title together previously and it's great they've been able to keep their hand in before we all meet up again for TEAMORIGIN duty next month. - www.benainslie.com