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America's Cup- Coutts and Dalton at odds over Cup television coverage

by Richard Gladwell on 4 May 2013
The real fireworks came in the final Question and Answer session moderated by Peter Montgomery (right) © Richard Gladwell http://www.richardgladwell.com

The heads of two America's Cup teams squared off in Auckland on Friday May 3, 2013, at a fundraising dinner to support the 2016 Paralympic campaign of two America's Cup sailors, Rick Dodson and David Barnes.


Organised by Duco Events, the dinner was staged at Auckland's prestigious Langham Hotel and sponsored by ASB Bank, the evening, hosted by top international yachting commentator, Peter Montgomery, consisted of several speaking, interview and auction phases, between dinner courses over a period of four and a half hours.

The Grand Finale was a 'Rumble in the Jungle' as the two protagonists, Grant Dalton, head of Emirates Team NZ, and Russell Coutts, his counterpart in Oracle Team USA faced a question and answer session that lasted 45 minutes.

Since 2010, there has been little love lost publicly between the two, with Coutts clearly irked as to Dalton’s frequent references to Oracle Team USA’s apparent unlimited budgets, and several other issues.

For his part, Dalton was on the boil over television, and the US focus, on the coverage to the perceived detriment of the needs of the Challengers.

The lack of consultation with the challengers has been another long-standing issue between the two.

The bout, which had little in the way of common ground, began in a magnanimous note, as Montgomery picked up on a point made in an earlier session by Rick Dodson, one of the beneficiaries of the fundraising dinner.

Back in 1984, Rick Dodson and Russell Coutts were Olympic Trialists in the Finn class, and by Coutts own admission, the smart money was probably on Rick Dodson, a multiple World OK Dinghy Champion, to take the New Zealand spot.

A week before the trials the two rival's rigs contacted in a training session, with Coutts' boom going through Dodson't new mainsail. A small hole was made much worse, when Coutts pulled on his mainsheet and pulled away most of the bottom of the mainsail, destroying it.

Coutts, then just 21 years old, went on the win the Olympic Trials, and the 1984 Gold Medal in the Finn - setting him on a stellar professional sailing path. To make some amends for the incident, in which he still claimed Dodson was at fault, Coutts offered to buy his former rival a new mainsail for their Sonar keelboat.

Kid gloves come off
After that generous start, the session took a more pointed turn, as Peter Montgomery picked up on the 2010 interviews by Larry Ellison, shown to the audience earlier in the context of a string of AC45 and AC72 video and interview clips. He stayed with Russell Coutts, perceived as the grand architect of the current America’s Cup format and posed the pointed question: 'What happened, what went wrong?'

[Sorry, this content could not be displayed] 'It is just unfortunate that Larry is not here to defend himself,' Coutts replied. 'He is fairly successful, and can look at concepts and vision and generally they work out pretty well.

'Larry has done a tremendous job in this America’s cup. He has come up with a television concept that is going to transform sailing.

'The evidence is already there,' said Coutts going in to cite some very impressive audience and television figures from the recent America’s Cup World Series regatta in Naples Italy, where the ACWS out-rated the practice session for the Formula 1. 'That’s never happened in sailing before', he noted.

'There hasn’t been one single race delay in America’s Cup World Series.' Coutts added – a reference to the days lost during previous monohull America’s Cup racing when a lack of wind, too much of it, or other issues prevented televised coverage taking place.

'But there was one day lost in Naples (in a previous series) due to the waves being too big rather than the wind,’ he said correcting himself before going on to cite comparative TV performance with NHL Hockey in US when the ACWS was sailed in Newport in 2012.

'And we haven’t even had the America’s Cup yet, and I think that it is going to be a fantastic event, and Larry’s vision will be shown to have been very good'

Coutts on then and now
Coutts seem to opt for attack as being the best form of defence, comparing the Michael Fay led challenges of 1987 and 1988 and 1992, with those of Peter Blake in 1995 and 2000. 'We had a very confrontational approach (under Fay), and we scored a lot of points off the water. (A reference to the fiberglass 12 metres 1986/87, Mis-Match of1988 and the Bowsprit in 1992.)

'The points don’t really start counting until the racing starts for the America’s Cup', Coutts noted, contrasting Fay’s approach with Blake’s emphasis on better design, better building and sailing better. He claimed the then Team NZ had the fifth biggest budget, and noted that historically the team with the biggest budget has only won once.

Sir Michael Fay was at one of the front tables at the function which had sold 700 tickets. While audience support for Emirates Team NZ would always have been expected to be strong, it was certainly a very fair and intelligent guest-list, without the acrimony, and hostility of bygone days.

Coutts then took the opportunity to needle his rival, in a jocular manner. . 'Grant’s racing on the boat, He is 54 years old. Can’t he find anyone in New Zealand that is better than him?'

(In making that remark, Coutts seemed to have forgotten that in every multi-challenger America's Cup bar one, the syndicate head has been a part of the crew of the winning boat. The exception being peter Blake in 2000.)

'I have enormous respect for Dalts ability to raise money,' said Coutts. 'I find it tough to raise money and find sponsors and so forth. But I’ve got a few wins on my belt. Dalts has got a lot of second places', he jibbed.

Elephantine memory
Coutts seemed to have a mental laundry list of comments that Dalton had made, over the past few years, to which he had taken exception.

He was clearly not happy about an analysis Dalton had made about Oracle Team USA’s first AC72, USA17. 'With his comments on our Boat 1, he is not only a great fundraiser, he is a design expert, and he is also a sailing expert.'

'I’d like to know what is not suitable about that Boat 1?'

Dalton countered with the comment: 'If you give to us, we’ll have a good look at it, and then we’ll let you know!'

Dalton changed the subject and got into an area touched on by Coutts earlier in the evening on the winning team’s philosophy for the 35th and subsequent Cups, claiming the current shape of the event was too expensive, and that while Oracle Team USA patron, Larry Ellison may have a vision, it had to be a vision that others could share and afford financially .

Then he tacked away from Coutts, referring to the issue of television broadcast for the current America’s Cup.

'TV is good, if you believe that TV is the future for the sport', Dalton said. 'People don’t normally pay rights for TV. Who is paying for rights?'

'I’m just shocked that you think that television is not important' interjected Coutts.

'If it was that important, how come you are not filming the Louis Vuitton Cup?' Dalton flicked back.

'We are filming it, and we are covering the Louis Vuitton,' said Coutts a somewhat irritated response.

'You say you are filming the Louis Vuitton Rounds Robin live, and Television NZ is not covering them because they don’t want to, or you are not covering them live?' asked a disbelieving Dalton.

'They (TVNZ) can take the images and they can transmit. They have got a contract, and as far as I am aware they can transmit. Whether they chose to do it or not is their decision', said Coutts.

'I was under the impression that TVNZ were not able to take the pictures from the Louis Vuitton Rounds, because they didn’t exist. It is good news to know that they are live and can be carried,' Dalton responded – recapping on Coutts comments and to loud applause from the 700 strong audience which comprised many of the high-rollers from the City of Sails, who has chipped up almost $200,000 to buy several auction items earlier in the evening.

(Later TVNZ said in a news item, that that the organiser supplied TV feed to rights holders for the first month of racing would consist of video from two muted cameras cameras (ie silent video only), no on-board cameras, and no audio cover. TVNZ said that the coverage was suitable only for the big screen coverage at the race venue only, and is not of the standard required for broadcast. TVNZ's only only option would seem to be to run the graphics from Animation Research Ltd, use the pictures that were available, and provide its own commentary, for the first month. It was not clear when full broadcast standard feeds/coverage would commence.)

Bertarelli loan recalled
Coutts dug out the laundry list again, using the occasion to make a few other 'corrections' to previous comments made by his critics, noting the provision of free freight to the ACWS, providing all the infrastructure.

'Larry has also invested a huge amount in the sport in terms of the television. Maybe that is not enough. Maybe he should have done more, and given you a loan like Ernesto Bertarelli did! ' ( A reference to the loan to Emirates Team NZ after the 2003 Defence debacle to help the team get back on its feet for 2007.the loan was repaid.)

Dalton then got onto his usual tack about the cost of the America’s Cup. 'It is just too expensive to compete and be able to win it. And unless you have well north of $100million you can’t afford to play at a success-level.'

'It sound like you are making excuses already,' was Coutts response. 'You’ve built the same number of boast as us, the same number of wings, you keep talking about money.

'Let me tell you something about the budgets,' he said to the audience' They are the same as they were in 2007, within 5%.

'The biggest cost is personnel, which runs in the high fifties (percent of the total). '

'It’s not about the size of the boat – because that is about 10% of the budget. The design costs are less than 3%. The marketing costs are less than 2.5% The other costs are small compared to the personnel budget. And that is what you have to reduce if you are going to get the costs down.

'This time around the bases are $2million,' Coutts continued. 'What he didn’t tell you that in 2007 the bases were between $5-8million. We’ve deleted the weather programs. We’ve deleted the two boat testing from most of the programs. We have reduced the number of hours you can sail AC72’s.

'I am not saying we have done it all right by a long shot. Once we’ve reviewed the television images we’ll know if it would have been better in small boats.

Foiling viability
Peter Montgomery got between the two protagonists, and posed a question to Coutts about when Oracle Team USA realised that foiling in the AC72’s was viable.

Coutts replied that Emirates Team NZ were foiling in the SL33’s before Oracle did so in the AC45’s.

But he added that all teams were surprised at the low wind speed at which foiling became a viable option.

He also believed that the pace of development would continue, and that what see to be the right development track now could well be different in three months time with a better solution being implemented.

To see the 3News coverage of the night http://www.3news.co.nz/Yachting-bosses-go-head-to-head-for-charity/tabid/317/articleID/296538/Default.aspx!click_here

And for ONE News' Martin Tasker's take on the evening and television issue http://tvnz.co.nz/sailing-news/war-words-spices-up-america-s-cup-video-5427685!click_here

And for the comments by Larry Ellison forecasting what he expected to see in the 34th America's Cup and, charitably, the World Series http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/video?id=7288043&pid=null!click_here



© This report and images are copyright to Richard Gladwell and Sail-World.com and may not be republished without permission

Part 2 of this feature, published Sunday, will cover questions from the audience at the fundraising dinner



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