Olympics hero Mills to lead British entry into ‘F1 of sailing’

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Olympics hero Mills to lead British entry into ‘F1 of sailing’ skynews sir keith mills business 4428431

The entrepreneur who led London’s bid to host the 2012 Olympics is to lead Britain’s charge into a new global sailing league being bankrolled by Larry Ellison, the Oracle billionaire.

Sky News has learnt that a company led by Sir Keith Mills, who founded the Air Miles and Nectar customer loyalty programmes, is to run the British leg of a new international tournament that will get underway next year.

The sailing industry has been abuzz with speculation for months about Mr Ellison’s plans for a competition that will effectively act as a rival to the America’s Cup.

Insiders said that Sir Keith’s Origin Sports Group would play a pivotal in the new series’ efforts to build a following in Britain, with the tournament expected to be broadcast on free-to-air television.

Under the plans being hatched by Mr Ellison, teams will compete from countries including Britain, the US and Japan on boats similar to those which competed in the last America’s Cup.

Next year’s series is expected to comprise races in five countries, with the number doubling in 2020.

A launch event has been scheduled for a venue on the River Thames early next month.

Sir Keith, a keen sailor himself, was a shareholder in previous British America’s Cup efforts alongside Sir Ben Ainslie, the most successful Olympic sailor of all time.

Earlier this year, the venture was sold to Jim Ratcliffe, the founder of chemicals group Ineos, in a £110m deal.

Sir Keith has an extensive list of other sporting commitments on his CV, including as chairman of the Invictus Games and a decade on the board of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club.

He made a substantial fortune from selling Air Miles to British Airways, and in 2002 launched Nectar as the UK’s first loyalty scheme with multiple collection partners.

After selling a stake in Nectar’s parent to Warburg Pincus, the private equity firm, he then offloaded the rest of his shareholding to Aimia, a Canadian company.

Nectar is now wholly owned by J Sainsbury, the supermarket chain.

Since selling the business, Sir Keith has invested in a number of technology companies, including Ecrebo, a retail point-of-sale marketing specialist.

“He has a track record of creating new formats in sport and business which work by driving interest among new audiences,” said a person close to the new sailing venture.

The aim of Mr Ellison’s new series, which one insider dubbed ‘the Formula One of sailing’, is to create a compelling and structured sporting contest which appeals to international TV audiences.

New social media platforms and on-screen graphics are expected to be used to generate excitement in the competition, which previous reports have described as ‘The World Series of Sailing’.

The American billionaire is a long-standing sailing enthusiast, and led the syndicate which lost the America’s Cup to New Zealand last year.

A spokeswoman for Oracle Racing declined to comment, while Sir Keith also declined to comment.



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