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Sponsors stake their claim on America's Cup

Riri boss and sailing fan, Livio Cossutti. Riri

No self respecting Swiss would think of backing New Zealand over Switzerland's Alinghi team in the America's Cup, which kicks off on Saturday.

This content was published on February 12, 2003 - 08:41

But Omega - owned by Switzerland's Swatch group - shows no compunction in pinning its colours to the opposition's mast for sailing's biggest race.

"We have been supporting [Team New Zealand] for many years, and we have a long running contract with them. We are also the time-keepers of the America's Cup," said Swatch chairman Nicolas Hayek.

He told swissinfo that he was sure the Swiss wouldn't object to Swatch backing Team New Zealand. "Switzerland is going to win either way - if it's Alinghi [that wins], it's a Swiss boat, and if it's Team New Zealand, it's Omega.

"For Swatch, it's a win-win situation. We would love Alinghi to win, and if it's New Zealand, it's ok too."

Lots of cash

Alinghi is hardly short of cash and big name backing, though. The team was created by Swiss billionaire, Ernesto Bertarelli, who divides his time between yachting and running Europe's largest biotech firm, Serono.

Its mast carries the colours of UBS - Switzerland's biggest bank- which is said to have paid SFr20 million ($15 million) for the privilege.

Alinghi also has a Swiss watchmaker ticking along behind it in the form of Audemars Piguet.

Decked out in upmarket watches and carrying the colours of a big bank and a billionaire backer, the Alinghi team seems to epitomise what has been called the sport of millionaires.

Riri

But not all the sponsors are quite so high-flying. Holding the team's wind-breakers closed are high-tech zips made by a Riri, a firm in Italian-speaking Ticino.

It sees its sponsorship of Alinghi as a way of taking the brand global.

The move is thought to be costing the company several million francs, but Livio Cossutti, the president and CEO of Riri - which has an annual turnover of SFr57 million - wouldn't be drawn on the exact amount. But he is convinced that the investment will be paid off in three years.

Cossutti, himself a keen sailor, said that the company was very proud of its high-tech wares - and its association with Alinghi.

"There is nothing more high-tech and therefore such a good advert for us as a sailing yacht," said Cossutti.

"We're not only contributing money, but also technology to the America's Cup."

swissinfo, Isobel Johnson

Key facts

Omega is sponsoring Team New Zealand.
Those supporting Alinghi are global names, UBS and Audemars Piquet.
Riri, a small zip-making firm, is also sponsoring Alinghi.
The total sponsorship for Alinghi is estimated at SFr35 million.

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