- Created on Wednesday, 26 September 2012 13:50
Last month, Airwaves writer Zach Brown published an article on “Meet The New Collegiate 420.” This article presented information on LaserPerformance’s new 420 design made specifically for college sailing, with the overall design focus of making the boat perform better, adding excitement and fun, and to be even more durable.
At the time of publication we did not intend to say that this boat was the official college sailing dinghy by any means, but just another option in a growing array of choices for college sailing programs. After receiving some constructive criticism for how our article might have been misleading, the latest news regarding college sailing dinghies makes us understand this criticism much better. And since then, we have posted articles on the Firefly, and other collegiate dinghies.
Last week, the ICSA posted a note on their Facebook page, announcing a new sponsorship agreement with LaserPerformance. This note was not very detailed, but soon after the posting, several “open letter” emails appeared on the ICSA mailing list, decrying this new sponsorship agreement. The text of these “open letters” can be found here, one from Mr. Fran Charles, MIT Sailing Director, and Tufts Head Coach Ken Legler. It is best for our readers to judge these arguments on their own, rather than us comment on them. The bottom line is that these letters quite clearly expressed significant disappointment at the decision of the ICSA to enter into an agreement with a vendor (LaserPerformance) that requires the hosts of national championship events, the semi-finals and finals included, to be sailed in LaserPerformance boats (they make 420s & FJ's).
In full disclosure, it is important to note that LaserPerformance (and Zim Sailing for that matter), are loyal and outstanding sponsors of Sail1Design.
While our readers can draw their own conclusions on the arguments presented in the open letters, we also show excerpts from the response of the ICSA, from President Mitch Brindley, and the ICSA executive committee. These responses clearly show the opinion that this agreement is one that they had the authority to make. It also refutes allegations that this agreement goes against ICSA by-laws.
As a former college sailing coach who ordered the very first “super Larks” directly from England, a type of boat that had never before been in North America, let alone college sailing, and as someone who built and used totally clear mainsails with colored jibs ten years ago, I am all for fleet individuality and encouraging diversity in college sailing. The MIT program, led by Fran Charles, and The Tufts program, led by Ken Legler, are leaders in college sailing innovation and success. I modeled my program partially around their example, and I consider them two of the very top ICYRA/ICSA coaches in the (ICSA) organizations history. Their opinion matters, and should be taken seriously.
On the other side of the coin, college sailing is changing, constantly, and evolving, and becoming more structured and professional. To that end, one can make an argument that at the top level, the equipment should not be up for interpretation. Top-flight athletic competition should be about the athletes involved.
So in the Olympics, sailors don’t travel to China and sail the boats used most commonly at that local Chinese venue. The discipline’s equipment is pre-determined. What if in basketball, smaller teams used slightly lower heights for the basket at their home court? 10’ is standard, effectively removing it as a variable in the game. Is the ICSA simply responding to the growing professionalism in our sport, and cementing the equipment choice? With this agreement, we now know exactly what will be used at the sem-finals and the finals, regardless of venue. And, from a financial standpoint, sponsors are a welcome and necessary part of an organization such as the ICSA. Vanguard/LaserPerformance has been with college sailing for many years.
Or, as others may contend, is this agreement an unfair one, placing too much emphasis on sponsor relations at the cost of equity toward all of the college sailing programs that are the lifeblood of the ICSA? Will this further divide the ICSA? Does this place schools that do not have LP boats at a disadvantage? The difference between both the Olympic boat and basketball analogy when compared to ICSA boat standardization, is that unlike Olympic boats & basketball net height, sponsorhip investment is a guiding, relevant factor in the ICSA equipment choice.
I am confident that both sides of the argument have the best interests of the sailors in mind. We encourage your comments in our comment submission forum at the bottom of this article.
Tom Sitzmann, Sail1Design
What happens with our past and future hosts such as MIT, NY Maritime, Tufts and Fordham? Are they supposed to dump their fleet of unofficial college dinghies on unsuspecting buyers if they ever hope to host? If only one builder is "official," what will prevent the price from skyrocketing?
I used to have tremendous respect and appreciation for Vanguard. Laser Performance not so much. But now that college sailing has decided that our Rondar boats are all of a sudden no longer legal boats for college nationals....with the investment we have made.....are we supposed to sell them now, buy "official" boats so we can someday be as good as the other teams? Next summer when I see LP boats while coaching 420 clinics or running 420 regattas, I'm not sure if I should be rooting for our exclusive builder or rooting with all my heart for them to fail.
For all the teams that do not own Laser Performance Boats, you have my full support in fighting against this horrible and divisive arrangement.
It is with chagrin I have learned the news that you, as the President
of ICSA, have signed an eight year contract with Laser Performance
exclusively naming them as the only official boat builder at all
national and semi-final college championship regattas excluding
sloops. According to Article VII of the ICSA bylaws, The Board of
Directors is the only authority which can make changes to the
conditions of the National Championships and this agreement is
categorically a change to the conditions. It is also a change to the
Class Rules of the Collegiate Dinghy Class, which also requires
approval of the Board. Therefore, as President you have entered into a
contract purportedly on behalf of ICSA which you are not authorized to
sign. It is wrong to assume, with no public debate or even public
notice beforehand that this contract is in the best interests of
college sailing. ICSA should immediately renegotiate the contract
before LP ‘performs’ any of their services.
Furthermore, and more importantly, this contract is definitely not in
the best interests of college sailing. Laser Performance’s inattention
to the long term and immediate needs of some customers has created
healthy competition for the collegiate boat building market over the
past several years. This sponsorship agreement is a strategic move by
Laser Performance to keep their competitors out of the college sailing
market. If left in place, it will cripple the ongoing efforts to
develop faster, more tunable, more durable, and more fun-to-sail boats
for the future of college sailing as well as severely effect member
institutions that have already chosen to buy from other boat builders
who are responsible and responsive to the customer.
I am sure that your intentions were good but the process, legality,
and substantive consequences of this agreement are all wrong for the
ICSA and its member institutions. Because some of our members’ boats
are not manufactured by LP, they are now required to purchase fleets
of boats from a sole vendor if they wish to be considered a host for
the nationals or semi finals. The LP agreement only requires the
builder to provide boats for singles and the host schools must
purchase their boats at whatever price LP decides to charge for
dinghies, women’s, semis, and team racing.
There are many other schools who will make fleet purchases over the
life of this eight year contract who will be forced to buy from Laser
Performance, whether or not that equipment is the best value for their
program’s needs. That is not fair, nor healthy for our organization.
Fordham University, New York Maritime Academy, Columbia University,
University of New Hampshire, MIT, Tufts University and all the schools
using Performance Catamaran-built west coast FJs have invested
hundreds of thousands of dollars in collegiate boats which are now
excluded from hosting a championship. The Administration and Alumni of
these institutions will understandably be very concerned about the
exclusion of their school. Retroactively banning an institution from
hosting an event based on their choice of equipment supplier is a
blatant disregard for these schools. I am quite sure that you would
not have inked this deal if your fleet at Old Dominion University
would be subject to this ban.
As a Commonwealth of Massachusetts corporation, the ICSA is subject to
some of the broadest consumer protection laws in the country. Laser
Performance’s strategy to exclude competitors’ boats might constitute
illegal anti-competitive conduct, and through your actions ICSA is now
a party to Laser Performance’s plan. The 'confidentiality agreement'
that you agreed to as a part of this contract precludes the member
institutions from knowing even an estimated value of this contract
that delivers the entire college sailing market to Laser Performance
until 2020. What exactly is it costing Laser Performance to get
exclusive rights to our market? There is no representation in any
ICSA meeting minutes that are available about the negotiation or
considerations of this agreement. Never was notice given to the
membership that this was an item to be considered by the Board of
Directors. This is egregious behavior which smacks of favoritism,
Mitch. The lack of transparency by you and the ICSA BoD makes the
membership feel suspicious of your motivations.
The need to have singlehanded boats for our championships is certainly
a concern for ICSA. Though the singlehanded discipline is a tiny part
of the collegiate schedule, it is a national championship that the
members support. However, with US Sailing having now chosen to work
with Zim Sailboats for their youth championship sponsorship with 420s
and Bytes for singles champs, Laser Performance is in an extremely
precarious position. They obviously view it as essential to have
college AND high school sailing singles hosted in their Laser design.
This agreement with ICSA does them a big favor. Granting LP the level
of concessions that you did in this agreement does far more for LP
than they are doing for college sailing. It is a very strange balance
of our priorities. There are other options for ICSA’s singlehanded
championship if LP is unwilling to work with us. Video production at
our championships is an ICSA need but this is a tiny cost to a company
which guarantees itself millions of dollars in boat sales over the
life of this agreement.
By granting an exclusive right to host all of our national
championships in LP-made boats, ICSA is making a long range commitment
to stifle competition in the institutional market. Recently, the
college sailing market has developed healthy competition from builders
who could offer alternative manufacturing processes, improved spare
parts inventories and service, and exciting changes in modern
equipment like cored hulls with resin infusion, gnav vangs, reef
points, and cassette style rudder stocks. In addition, improvements
like 420 bow bulkheads, angled thwarts, integrated bow bumpers, and
lighter rigs make our boats much safer, as well as more fun to sail.
These changes have ONLY come from schools that have been willing to
break away from the Laser Performance stranglehold. Now, ICSA is
poised to make a long range commitment to the company who has
repeatedly been unwilling to change anything until their market share
is threatened by other builders who innovate.
There needs to be public debate, full transparency, and the ICSA
should take very seriously its responsibility to hear every member
school’s concerns with respect. As a college sailing director I am
very concerned about this contract, the secrecy behind it, and the
detrimental consequences it has on many of the ICSA members. It is
wrong, unfair, and probably illegal.
I. Authority to negotiate sponsorship agreements and claim of improper action of the ICSA President:
ICSA By-laws empower the President and the Executive committee to administer and develop the operational policies of the association, and conduct the daily business of the association. Furthermore the ICSA Sponsorship Guidelines (adopted by the ICSA BOD in 1989) give the President the specific authority to negotiate the sponsorship contracts, quoted below. This is in addition to the authorities and duties expressed in the ICSA By-Laws:
“ICSA Sponsorship Guidelines- Adopted June 1989; as amended through June 1997
The LaserPerformance sponsorship agreement is compliant with the current ICSA Conditions for National Championships. The conditions serve to broadly define the type of boat not the builder: “BOATS: SEMI FINALS & FINALS- The events shall be sailed in two-person dinghies of not less than 11 feet, or more than 15 feet, in length. The boats may be either sloop or cat-rigged. The use of two fleets of boats (one for each division) is permitted.”
Historically sponsorship agreements define the requirements of a championship host. These requirements are related to the championship host directly during the planning process. For example ICSA requires the use of the ICSA owned sails branded with sponsor logos for the Women’s, Dinghy, and Team Race Championships. This too is not specifically defined in the conditions. Such information is contained in documentation supplied to the hosts.
When examined, the Championship Conditions match the new agreement; meaning that nothing is in conflict with the agreement.
- I. Transparency:
It has been charged that the agreement was confidential and lacked transparency. In actuality, the contract was shared and reviewed multiple times by ICSA Executive Committee, and only after extensive input and negotiation from all of the members of the ICSA Executive Committee and the LaserPerformance Board of Directors was the agreement accepted. The Executive Committee did not take lightly the rights and obligations committed in this sponsorship agreement. To be perfectly clear, there is no intended secrecy, but all of the parties must adhere to the confidentiality of the terms as required and expected with many business agreements. Most of the negotiations took place over the summer; with the final approval coming on September 13, 2012. A report on the status of all sponsorships will take place at the Mid-Year ICSA Board Meeting. And the implementation of the terms of the sponsorship will be public.
- II. Misinformation about LaserPerformance
Statements made earlier were false and misleading. In regard to LaserPerformance being dropped by US Sailing, I have been assured that LaserPerformance terminated the contract with US Sailing effective July 2012, but continued to support the US Olympic Sailing Team, and many of its members on an individual basis, regardless of the contract termination. We are also very aware of LaserPerformance faithfulness to Collegiate sailing as can be illustrated by their commitment of considerable resources in regard to this contract. In fact, we are aware that LaserPerformance has committed 2 full time employees to insure that it is able to properly serve colleges and universities with their equipment and service needs. I am also aware of LaserPerformance’s initiative to develop and produce a new higher performance dinghy based on the current 420 platform with significant guidance from both college coaches and sailors alike. Certainly the actions of LaserPerformance are consistent with the needs of the ICSA.
- III. Exclusivity
Exclusivity is part of the reciprocal function of sports sponsorship agreements. All of our title sponsorship include category exclusivity rights and have as long as I have been involved in the management of the association. The charge that ICSA has acted in a way that embraces anti-competitiveness and compromises the investment of colleges who have bought boats from other sources is unfounded. The ICSA has never prevented any institution from buying boats or other equipment from any particular manufacturer. Similarly the NCAA doesn’t prevent a school from buying footballs from any manufacturer, utilizing them in practices and competitions; however the NCAA does require that the Official Football of the NCAA Championships, Wilson, is used for the NCAA Championships. It would be wrong for an institution to assume that by owning a fleet of boats that they are entitled to host a national championship in that fleet. The ICSA Championship & Competition Committee makes a point to have the competitive characteristics of its championships reflect the nature, and type of competition sailed every weekend throughout the year. With or without this agreement or the previous agreements that we have been operating under with LaserPerformance since 2000, the limiting factor in terms of fleet would be the ease, frequency, normalcy of access to that type of boat by all schools who compete in the event.
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