Sep 24, 2012, 12:06 PM
Post #1 of 11
Date: Fri, 21 Sep 2012 16:31:40 -0400
Trouble in college sailing
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From: Fran Charles To: Mitch Brindley
Subject: [ICSA] Open Letter Response
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.
MIT Sailing Master
Jack Wood Sailing Pavilion
3 Ames St.
Cambridge, MA 02142