Tough times for sports funding admits 2012 boss

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Now is a "very tough" economic environment for sports financing, the head of an America's Cup challenger and a London 2012 boss said.

Sir Keith Mills is the team principal of Teamorigin, the British unit seeking to challenge for the America's Cup. He is also the deputy chair of the London 2012 Olympics organising committee and on the board of directors at Tottenham Hotspur Football Club.

He estimates he is making cost savings of around 35 per cent in the current economic climate to launch his America's Cup bid - which counts British Olympic champions Ben Ainslie, Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson among the team.

A long-running New York court case which is to decide the future of the sailing event has not helped.

"We have not been in the market yet trying to raise money. There is not enough certainty. We are getting close to that certainty now and when we do get that, it will be a very tough market," Sir Keith told the Press Association.

"Wearing my other hats - for Olympics and football - it is a very tough environment.

"The uniqueness of the America's Cup like the uniqueness of the Olympics makes it a little easier.

"There is always a market for a unique proposition but it is also going to be tough.

"It's one of the reasons that we have come up with a new design for the boat to reduce our costs. Even the team costs will be reduced as a result of what we are doing here by 35% and as a direct result of what is happening in the market."

For the America's Cup Sir Keith is now working towards raising a budget of between £10-15 million a year "probably down from £25 million that we were looking at before".

He is confident that this money can be raised from the market but if there are any gaps, it will be plugged by himself and his partner Charles Dunstone.

But he said: "I think that we can get £10-15 million. There is an appetite in the market for something so unique."

The 33rd America's Cup has repeatedly been delayed due to a fierce legal wrangle between defending Swiss champions Alinghi and their US rivals Oracle.

In March seven US appeal judges, sitting in a New York court, are expected to issue a ruling. Sir Keith is confident Alinghi will win - allowing the race to begin in 2010 with the final in 2011.

Sir Keith was one of the driving forces behind London's successful bid to host the 2012 Olympics.

He became the international president and chief executive of the London 2012 bid company in 2003.

The downturn will obviously also hit the Olympics but London 2012 has already managed to secure several multi-million pound Olympic sponsorship deals over the last two-and-a-half years already, he said.

"I think that if you were not working with such a unique opportunity, it would be more difficult," Sir Keith argues.

"It is not going to be easy and the financial commitments are going to be smaller but with such a special proposition, I think people will support us."

Cost savings are being sought now as sports chiefs try to find ways to pay for plans dreamt up in a boom that are now being delivered in a period of bust.

Teamorigin's approach with a keen eye on reducing crew size, design and build costs may be repeated in other sports.

Sir Keith said: "You will see that Formula One are going through the same exercise and fortunately all the sports that I am involved in are doing the same - that we reduce our costs from what we were doing two or three years ago."

For the moment Sir Keith's thoughts are on the America's Cup and the time when the historic contest will be fought not in the courts but back on the water.

While the race has been delayed, keeping the teams "as busy as possible" has been difficult but not impossible.

The whole process has been "frustrating", according to Sir Keith, who added: "We have kept about a dozen corporations that expressed an interest about a year ago briefed on what we are doing and said as soon as we have some certainty about what we are doing we will keep you informed.

"I have been absolutely single-minded and determined to try and get the two sides to mediate and express their differences.

"It has been difficult and frustrating and bloody expensive."

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