2012-01-05 / News

Jametowner named venue director for America’s Cup World Series

BY KEN SHANE


Islander Sue Maffei Plowden (second from left) was recently named venue director for the 2012 America’s Cup World Series event in Newport. Above, she joins Tom Hirsch and islanders Kim and Scott Ferguson at the AWCS San Diego event. Islander Sue Maffei Plowden (second from left) was recently named venue director for the 2012 America’s Cup World Series event in Newport. Above, she joins Tom Hirsch and islanders Kim and Scott Ferguson at the AWCS San Diego event. The traveling road show known as the America’s Cup World Series will set down in the area this summer, and a Jamestown resident has been invested with major responsibility to ensure that the massive event goes off without a hitch.

The eyes of the sailing world will be upon Narragansett Bay and Susan Maffei Plowden is determined to make sure that we look good.

Plowden was recently named venue director for the America’s Cup Event Authority that has overall charge of the land-based operations for the America’s Cup World Series regatta. America’s Cup Race Management is charged with handling the on-water issues.

Plowden, a lifelong sailor and vice commodore at the Conanicut Yacht Club, has been involved in the sponsorship and media side of the sport for 20 years. She helped to organize the J-Class Regatta that featured Shamrock and Endeavour in the early 1990s. That experience led her to her first America’s Cup campaign, working for Bill Koch’s America3 syndicate in their quest for the Cup in 1992.

“I worked on the sponsorship side and ran all the media operations,” Plowden said. “It was kind of a combination. Since then I’ve worked on a project basis.”

Those projects have involved more America’s Cup sponsorship and media work with Chris Dickson’s New Zealand team in 1995, and then Paul Cayard’s America One team in San Francisco the following year.

“You could do [sponsorship and media] then because they were just starting out and didn’t have the budgets to have someone specialize in each one,” Plowden said. “What it comes to now is that you do one or the other. You’re either involved in media or you’re involved on the commercial side.”

The 2003 America’s Cup found Plowden in New Zealand working for Versus, the Cup broadcasters. There she took care of hospitality, organizing one-week trips to Auckland for the network’s top cable operators. She handled all the logistics of the operation, which included race watching, hotels and golf outings.

In 2007, Plowden found herself in Valencia, Spain, once again handling America’s Cup hospitality for Versus. Plowden chose the hospitality role because it didn’t require her to relocate to either Auckland or Valencia for an extended period of time, and because the other side of her business also involved working with a Swiss company called Key Partners, which manages the international arm of Rolex sailing events worldwide.

“I’ve been working with them on a part-time basis for the last 10 years handling media relations on the Rolex events,” Plowden said. “That involves everything from writing to managing overall including TV, photographers and logistics.”

At one point Plowden thought that she would have to branch out beyond sailing, but since there is now corporate sponsorship money available for sailing events, she has been able to create a niche for herself in that area with her company, Suma Events.

Plowden has done media work outside of sailing, working on the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 and the Sydney games in 2000. “I was trying to branch out to do something else besides sailing,” she said. “It was great but then I just kept getting more and more calls to stay within the sport. It’s a small sport. You work with the same people and you have a good rapport with people. It’s nice to be able to stay in the industry.”

The responsibilities for the venue director include logistics management at Fort Adams, the base for the America’s Cup World Series. Plowden will be handling permitting, hospitality, catering, concessions and media operations.

“I am backed up by a group in San Francisco,” Plowden said. “They have two events in Italy coming up before Newport so they’re busy with that. My focus is just Newport.”

Plowden got the job through people she knew who were working for the America’s Cup Event Authority. “I was here and that’s what I do, so it worked out,” she said. “It was great because I was the event manager for the last America’s Cup activity, when Oracle and Alinghi raced here in 2004, but this is going to be much bigger.”

Gov. Lincoln Chafee recently announced the formation of a Rhode Island America’s Cup World Series Host Committee, but the members of the committee, which will include a Jamestown resident, have not been named yet. “They’re going to be a big help,” Plowden said. “That’s how we’re going to be able to pull this thing off, because of the partnership with the state. We’re really happy that people like Paul Harden at Rhode Island Economic Development is involved, and that Gov. Chafee has embraced it. That’s the key.”

Entrance to Fort Adams during the ACWS will require spectators to purchase tickets. Ticket prices have not been set yet, but Plowden wants to assure people that the event will be unlike other sailboat races that can be viewed from Fort Adams.

“It’s more like going to the folk or jazz festivals,” she said. “It’s a festival. There will be activities to draw you out there and keep you busy. And the racing is unlike what everybody is used to seeing.”

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