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18ft Skiff Racing Sponsorships: Long history of partnerships in an iconic Australian sport

by Frank Quealey 16 Jul 05:30 BST

Long-term sponsorships in sport are rare and any sport which has been fortunate enough to have one must be either lucky or be doing something 'right', or both. To have two sponsorships which have been on-going for the past 27 years, and are preparing for another season of racing, can only mean that the 'product' is a very good one.

The 'product' IS a very good one, it's the iconic Australian 18 footers, which has a continuous history of 131 years of sailing races on Sydney Harbour, since it was introduced in January 1892.

During that time the sport has produced young competitors who have gone on to international stardom with numerous gold, silver and bronze medals at several Olympics, won the America's Cup as designers (Ben Lexcen) and competitors, won World and other International senior and youth championships, and set world records of speed and tactical skill.

Since the late 1970s, when the 18 footers set the world standard for technology by the use of high-tech materials in the construction of the boats. Now, with the introduction of modern technology in communications, the Australian 18 footer racing on Sydney Harbour every weekend during the Australian summer months (October to March, inclusive), the Australian 18 Footers League features a live stream video coverage to the world.

The two sponsors who have been continuous with the Australian 18 Footers League since they first sponsored skiffs in the 1996-97 season are Smeg Australia and the Rag & Famish Hotel, but they are not the only long-term sponsors who have been associated with the 18s.

Sponsorship at the Australian 18 Footers League goes back to 1965 when an incredibly skilful businessman named Alan Greenway, who was the Chairman and Managing Director of TraveLodge was building an international motel chain at the time and saw the 18ft Skiffs as an excellent vehicle to promote his business.

Mr. Greenway was a leader in the Australian tourism industry determined to make TraveLodge an international name in the USA and in 1965 became the first person outside the USA to be honoured when he was elected to the Hospitality Hall of Fame.

In 1968, Greenway formed a consortium with Western Hotels and Trust Houses to buy TraveLodge US, which added 400 more TraveLodge operations to the 65 already in Australia.

TraveLodge continued its sponsorship although the company's focus changed to promote individual hotels (Pacific Harbour Fiji and Park Royal, Queensland) before the 17-year, six world championship-winning sponsorship ended in 1981.

The TraveLodge sponsorship reaped a reward of six World 18 footer championships. Five for Australia's Bob Holmes and one for New Zealand's Terry McDell.

Mr. Patrick Corrigan, AM, an Australian businessman focused mainly in the freight industry, who was awarded the Member of the Order of Australia medal in the 2000 Queen's Birthday Honours List, saw the same opportunity just four years after TraveLodge and an association of more than 30 years began in 1969.

During the period until the early 2000s, Patrick's sponsorship was rewarded with two Giltinan World Championship victories (Rob Brown in 1988 and Stephen Quigley in 1996) as well as European, Australian and NSW championships, and sponsored some of the great names in 18ft skiff racing - world champions John 'Woody' Winning, David Witt and Howie Hamlin (USA).

When asked why he sponsored for so long, his reason was simple, "It's a three letter word - FUN. I sponsor a number of different things in sport as well as the arts. The reason I do it is simple, I like to have fun."

"I've always had fun sponsoring the 18s and enjoyed watching the skiffs. It was also a good way to give the company's staff an interest outside the day-to-day workplace."

Two completely different reasons for their long-term sponsorship association with the League and both rewarded with victories at the highest level.

The present long termers are no different. Smeg and 'The Rag' have totally different reasons for their involvement with the League and both have also tasted the success of World Championship, international championships and Australian Championship victories.

It was a family situation which brought the Rag & Famish Hotel and the Australian 18 Footers League togetrher in the 1990s when Peter Calligeros began sailing on an 18, and the skiff carried a Rag & Famish Hotel name and logo for the first time.

The Rag & Famish Hotel and the sport of 18 footers racing have more in common than simply being the combination of a sport and a sponsor. Both the North Sydney hotel and the 18s go back into the 19th Century and remain prominent features of Sydney today.

The 18 Footers has long been a sport with a strong family tradition and since the late George Calligeros purchased 'The Rag' in May 1975, the hotel has developed equally strong family values as Peter and Anna Calligeros continue the business under the Calligeros Hotel group banner.

Smeg Australia like to use the club and race days for client and supplier entertainment. They believe it's a great way to entertain clients.

Australian 18 Footers League President, John Winning recognises the value of Smeg's involvement in the club and the 18ft Skiff class. "We are delighted with Smeg's long-time sponsorship, particularly in the way the company has involved its staff with the club and the racing."

"Smeg was the first whitegoods company to be associated with our club and this led to a number of others also coming on board."

Other present-day sponsors have a wide variety of reasons for their partnerships with the League.

According to Marine Outlet, "It drives sales to the website continuously as our audience watches the livestream on race days and after the event."

Shaw and Partners incorporate the club into team building days and use race days to showcase their brand and the beauty of Sydney Harbour when they have important overseas partners in town.

Fisher & Paykel "get value from the corporate networking that our club membership and supporters deliver."

In the third season of sponsorship, Dale Klynhout, founder, and Managing Director says "Lazarus Capital Partners provides asset management and prime brokerage services for institutional investors situated across the Asia-Pacific region."

"Whilst clients are geographically dispersed throughout Asia, one way or another they are all hooked into the sailing world. Our Australian clients are no different where they are already aware of the iconic Sydney Harbour institution that is 18ft skiff sailing."

"Equally with our prime brokerage desk based in Sydney, the 18 footers culture is the perfect morale booster to give our dedicated staff something to enjoy together outside of a trading desk."

While large corporations, smaller companies or businesses and individuals, continue to recognise the benefits of a partnership with the Australian 18 Footers League, the iconic 18 footers will continue to light up Sydney Harbour every summer for another 131 years.

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