Diverse group, including NFL’s DeAndre Hopkins and actor Issa Rae, buying sailing league’s Team USA

Ownership group also includes NFL players Roquan Smith and Kayvon Thibodeaux and former heavyweight champ Deontay Wilder

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Alabama linebacker Dallas Turner and actress/producer Issa Rae are part of a diverse group of investors joining founding Uber engineer Ryan McKillen and professional sailor Mike Buckley in buying the United States SailGP Team in tech titan Larry Ellison’s global sailing league.

Turner said he is using some of his name, image and likeness income to buy into the group that also includes Tennessee Titans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and former heavyweight champion and Olympic bronze medalist Deontay Wilder. Avenue Sports Fund, led by former Milwaukee Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry, is the lead investor. Other investors include NFL players Roquan Smith and Kayvon Thibodeaux, and DJ and producer Gryffin.

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Issa Rae attends the 2019 Women In Film Annual Gala at The Beverly Hilton on June 12, 2019, in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images for Women In Film)

“I think I can say we’ve put together the most diverse ownership group in the history of our sport,” said Buckley, who will be team CEO. “I have always dreamed about bringing sailing into the mainstream, a little bit more in line with today’s American dream. This is a pretty epic step.”

The purchase has been in the works for several months and was announced Wednesday. On Saturday, former Team USA CEO and skipper Jimmy Spithill told The Associated Press he was leaving the squad and will start a new Italian team for Season 5 that will begin after the 37th America’s Cup ends in mid-October 2024.

Seven-time world champion Taylor Canfield takes over as skipper. Team USA is currently third in the 10-team league after five of 13 regattas in Season 4. The next regatta is in Dubai on Dec. 9-10.

Ellison and five-time America’s Cup winner Russell Coutts of New Zealand co-founded SailGP after their Oracle Team USA lost the America’s Cup to Emirates Team New Zealand in 2017. SailGP uses a souped-up version of the 50-foot foiling catamarans that were introduced in the 2017 America’s Cup. Powered by a wingsail, the cats skim over the waves at highway speeds.

Ellison and Coutts intended SailGP to be commercially sustainable with its regular schedule of TV-friendly regattas around the world, whereas the America’s Cup often has gaps of up to three or four years in between regattas.

SailGP includes most of the world’s top sailors, many of whom also compete in the America’s Cup and Olympics. Also Wednesday, SailGP managing director Andy Thompson said the league is raising the prize money for the winner-take-all season championship podium race from $1 million to $2 million, and will offer a total of $7 million in prize money. Tom Slingsby and Team Australia have won the first three season championships.

DeAndre Hopkins thegrio.com
WWide receiver DeAndre Hopkins #10 of the Houston Texans at MetLife Stadium on December 15, 2018 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)

The new group said this is the biggest acquisition in SailGP history but declined to give a valuation. By comparison, when British sailing star Ben Ainslie helped take his team private a year ago, the valuation was announced at $40 million. Ellison originally covered the league’s costs but intended for it to eventually move to a franchise ownership model.

Turner, whose No. 8 Crimson Tide faces No. 1 Georgia on Saturday in the SEC championship game, is part of a syndicate of athletes put together by LifeLine Investment Group. He declined to say how much his investment is.

“It was definitely new for me,” Turner told the AP. “I was kind of surprised at first but it’s still a good opportunity so I couldn’t really miss out on it.”

Turner is ranked No. 57 in on3.com Top 100 NIL valuation at $736,000.

“I’m going to be honest, I don’t know too much,” Turner said about SailGP. “But ever since they brought the offer, I’ve been doing a little research on it. I’ve been watching a bunch of videos.”

Rae, who was in the movie “Barbie” released last summer, attended SailGP’s Los Angeles regatta in late July. “I fell in love with the fan experience and loved the competitive global aspect,” she said. “After that, it was a matter of expressing interest.”

She added that she likes being on boats and throwing yacht parties, “so look out for a SailGP-sponsored yacht party soon.”

Buckley said his group was looking for investors “that were doing epic things in their lives.”

Sponsors Red Bull, T-Mobile for Business and Zhik have reaffirmed their commitment, the team said.

SailGP said it drew its largest American audience of nearly 1.8 million viewers on Nov. 5 for a CBS broadcast of the Spain Sail Grand Prix, which was won by Team USA. Season 4 wraps up in New York on June 22-23 and San Francisco July 13-14.

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