July 13, 2007 / 3:53 PM / 12 years ago

Louis Vuitton cuts America's Cup tie after 25 years

LONDON (Reuters) - Louis Vuitton has ended its sponsorship of the America’s Cup after a 25-year link with sailing’s most prestigious event, unhappy with the way it is being run and the direction it is taking under Swiss holder Alinghi.

32nd America's Cup challenger's Emirates Team New Zealand (R) and Luna Rossa Challenge of Italy sail round the windward mark during their Race 5 at the Louis Vuitton Cup final in Valencia, in this file photo from June 6, 2007. Louis Vuitton has ended its sponsorship of the America's Cup after a 25 year association with sailing's most prestigious event. REUTERS/Victor Fraile

“We have brought an end to our partnership with the America’s Cup after a quarter of a century,” Louis Vuitton Cup Director Christine Belanger said on Friday.

Belanger said the decision had been taken in recent days after discussions within Louis Vuitton, which is part of French luxury goods group LVMH.

Tensions between Louis Vuitton and the organizers of the America’s Cup have developed since Alinghi brought the Cup back to Europe in 2003 for the first time in 152 years.

Louis Vuitton has wanted to preserve the event’s aura of wealth, elegance and luxury and its appeal to a global audience including the world’s super-rich. This clashed with Alinghi’s focus on commercializing it, bringing in more money and people.

This change had forced Louis Vuitton to re-evaluate the return on its multi-million euro investment.

“For the last few weeks and months we have been thinking a lot about how the event was evolving ... and we have decided that unfortunately we should withdraw from the event,” Belanger told Reuters by telephone from the Spanish port of Valencia.

Louis Vuitton cited a more commercial approach to the America’s Cup, questions among some participants about the way the next event would be run and the risk of a fall in the number of teams taking part, as factors behind its decision.

NEW SPONSOR

The America’s Cup organizer defended its running of the event, saying it would find a sponsor more in tune with its vision. But America’s Cup Management (ACM) would not comment on rumors that it would be privately owned Swiss watchmaker Rolex.

“We now have to try and find a company which does share our progressive and modern vision of the America’s Cup,” ACM Chief Operating Officer Michel Hodara told Reuters by telephone from Switzerland.

BMW Oracle’s Golden Gate Yacht Club on Thursday protested at the way Alinghi has set up the 33rd America’s Cup, arguing it unfairly favors the defender.

Under the Cup’s rules the winner decides where, when and how to race the next event.

Louis Vuitton’s move leaves the competition with a large financial hole to fill as the company had invested tens of millions of euros, far outspending fellow sponsors Spanish bank Santander, Alcatel-Lucent and Spanish utility Endesa.

As well as being the main sponsor of the 32nd America’s Cup which was won on July 3 by Alinghi — the syndicate bankrolled by Swiss biotech billionaire Ernesto Bertarelli — Louis Vuitton also sponsors the Louis Vuitton Cup.

This has been the qualifying regatta for the America’s Cup itself and the Louis Vuitton Cup has been awarded to the team which has won the right to challenge the America’s Cup holder.

Belanger said the Louis Vuitton Cup remained the property of the company and had been lent to ACM, the organization set up by Alinghi to run the 156-year-old event.

Team New Zealand, who won the Louis Vuitton Cup this year but were beaten 5-2 in the best-of-nine America’s Cup series by Alinghi, will hold onto the trophy until it is challenged for again, Belanger said.

But Louis Vuitton had not yet decided whether it would instigate another sailing event, she added.

— Additional reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta in Paris and Jane Barrett in Brussels

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