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America's Cup - Changes proposed to control future Cup options

by Richard Gladwell on 8 Jun 2016
The AC72 is the big sister to the AC45S and AC50 Guilain Grenier Oracle Team USA © http://www.oracleteamusamedia.com/
Changes are being mooted to put the America's Cup on a longer-term footing according to the Daily Telegraph (UK) quoting the British Challenger, Land Rover BAR.

According to the Telegraph, some of the teams in the 2017 America's Cup are keen to lock-in parameters which would bind successive holders of the oldest trophy in international sport to a style and frequency for the next America's Cup Match.

The changes have been on the discussion table for some time and would commit the new Defender to use the current size and type of boat, to ensure that the Cup breaks away from the cycle by cycle changing of the boat, and severely curtail the obsolescence of otherwise perfectly sailable boats.

Changes are also mooted to the frequency of the staging of the America's Cup with the event required to be held every two years. In the contemporary era of the America's Cup, since it was revived in 1956 after World War II, the Cup has generally been sailed every three years for a repeat Defence, and four years for a Defence in a new venue (subject to change of hemispheres).

The new moves are not going to be enshrined in a change to the Deed of the Gift, the 19th-century document that governs the conduct of the challenge trophy.

According to the Daily Telegraph, quoting British sources, the teams are looking to establish a 'Collective Understanding' which will lock in some of the radical changes that have been made over the past ten years, since the shift to multihulls.


The Daily Telegraph says discussions are under way to make the America’s Cup a biennial competition with an expanded but simplified world series using a ‘Cup class’ of boat throughout the entire cycle.

That proposition creates the situation where the outcome, in terms of relative speed and performance of the Challengers and Defenders, and indeed the likely winner of the Cup, would be known before the Challenger Series and Match itself got underway - removing the mystique that is inherent in the 160 year old event.

The proposed changes would be the “logical” next step as the sport seeks to capitalise on the current surge of interest and increase its commercial potential, according to Sir Ben Ainslie and Martin Whitmarsh, the team principal and chief executive respectively of Land Rover BAR.

“Looking at where we are, we have a product which has much greater commercial potential than it ever had before,” argued Whitmarsh, who said that Larry Ellison, the owner of Oracle Team USA, and Russell Coutts, the team’s former CEO who now runs the America’s Cup Event Authority, deserved “huge credit for having the vision and courage” to instigate the changes which have brought the sport to where it is today.

“We have incredible history and heritage and for about a week in 2013 we had the greatest sporting show in the world. But if you wait until a Cup has been won, and then the victor goes away and reflects on how they want to go forward, you immediately lose 18 months to two years of negotiating time. And the public are not ­interested in that process so effectively it’s just a vacuum.

“What we’re saying is that we know the next defender will be one of the six teams currently participating. So there’s nothing to prevent us working together now to define the next Cup. Let’s up the tempo.'


Whitmarsh said there was nothing in the Deed of Gift - the set of rules that governs the Cup - to preclude planning ahead provided it remained a winner-takes-all contest, that the winner determined where the defence took place, and commercially owned the entity.

“The final clearly has to remain a match race between the Defender and the Challenger,' he said. 'That is fundamental to the principle of the America’s Cup. There is no desire to alter the Deed of Gift itself. But perhaps we can up the speed at which we get there [to the final].

'By increasing the tempo, and simplifying it, we improve the commerciality of it, and that allows you to have more events and more competitors, more venues, greater TV exposure and all those things are virtuous.'

It is not clear whether Oracle Team USA will be bound by the proposed changes should it successfully defend the America's Cup in 2017.

Had Emirates Team NZ won in 2013, they had intended to consult with the teams for three months, and then pick a combination of factors that would ensure the maximum or optimal level of participation. A key factor in that choice is picking a venue that will work for the most sponsors. The venue would have been Auckland which attracted 12 teams in 2000, 10 teams in 2003, and 12 teams in the 2007 America's Cup in Valencia. The 2013 America's Cup attracted just four teams, and only two more in 2017.


Complex litany of change
Since winning the 2010 America's Cup in a Court ordered Deed of Gift match - best of three races over courses and conditions prescribed by the Deed of Gift in the absence of mutual consent - Oracle Team USA have not shown any real leadership in giving effect to the proposed changes, even though they have been mooted by San Francisco based clubs for over 10 years.

As the Defender, Golden Gate Yacht Club have had the opportunity to implement most of the changes now on the table, in the current Cup cycle.

Taking inordinate amounts of time over key decisions has been a hallmark of their tenure as Defender, which has made the entry and survival of commercially based teams difficult at best.

There has been a multiplicity of boats used and frequent changes in the class and technology which is not widely understood.

First came the one design AC45 wingsailed catamaran, used in the America's Cup World Series, leading into the 34th America's Cup.

Then there was the AC72 open design wingsailed catamaran, of which most teams built two for the 2013 event.


After September 2013, the venue was switched from the home waters of the defending club, San Francisco-based Golden Gate Yacht Club to Bermuda, a decision that was 15 months in the making, finally being announced in December 2014.

Prior to that, in June 2014 - nine months after the end of the 34th Match, it was announced that the AC62 would be used.

Then nine months later it was announced that the AC62 class would change to the one design AC50 - nine months after entries had opened and teams had committed design effort on the AC62. The move was claimed to have been made to bring in new teams, of which Japan and maybe France came in or firmed up as new challengers, offset by the loss of Cup veterans Luna Rossa (ITA).

The teams were also required to convert their displacement one design AC45's to become foilers. On top of that the teams are allowed to build development versions of the AC45, and currently, Oracle Team USA have built three of the so-called surrogate boats.

Just within the current Cup cycle teams have to own three different classes of boats in the 45-50ft length range.

That is a lot of wingsailed multihulls, with no second hand market inside or the outside the America's Cup, and the move to rationalise this spend is understandable.


New ideas not new
Over 10 years ago, when the Challengers were a formidable force marshalled by Tom Ehman, now Vice Commodore of the Golden Gate Yacht Club - the now largely marginalised Defender of the America's Cup. The same proposals were on the table with a view to being adopted in the same way they still are a decade later.

Passing through New Zealand in late January 2005 on this way to the next Challenger meeting in San Francisco in early February, was then Chairman of the Challenger Commission, Tom Ehman (USA). His America’s Cup pedigree extends back into 1980 when he was a rules advisor for the New York Yacht Club and the defenders.

He was the first Chairman of the Challenger Commission – a group representing all Challengers - following the appointment of BMW Oracle and the Golden Gate Yacht Club (San Francisco) as Challenger of Record.

Thinking laterally, Ehman had many of the same ideas that are being put in front of the Teams in Chicago in June 2016.

While Ehman's focus then was on the 2007 regatta, he couldn't help but try and peer over the horizon beyond Valencia.

'The biggest problem with this event, in my personal opinion,' he says, 'is the time.'


'It’s way too long between events when we are not changing the boats. This event (31st America's Cup) should be happening right now in ’05. We should have raced here in 2003, gone off and done some events like we did. And the Challenger selection series should already be starting in March or April. If that were the case, then the cash-burn rate for the teams would be half what it is at present. So you get as much or more sponsorship revenue (some would say more because you get two big events in four years) for half the price!

'If this event were happening every other year you would get many more teams because it costs half as much money to get the team up and running.

'We have come a long way from America’s Cup 31 to America’s Cup 32. And now you have to make the next step which is to figure out how to have a main event every other year. If we can make this next event, who ever wins, held in 2009 rather than 2011, then we will have done the sport a huge service.

'We need to regularise, and it needs to happen more often, that is the next big goal.


Had Tom Ehman had his way, Auckland would be sitting back in its armchair and preparing to watch America's Cup 2005 sailed in the Hauraki Gulf.

'From my personal perspective, and I proposed this at the time, regardless of whoever won in 2003, the 32nd America’s Cup would have been in Auckland in 2005. Whoever had won in 2003, would have had the venue in 2007. So you give everyone their four years to prepare the venue, and you know with regularity when the next event is going to be and where.

'If everyone gets it in their mind that we will have more teams, more promotion, more excitement and more interest. It is better for everybody that we do it every two years – or conceivably every year.

'As we are showing with these preliminary regattas it’s not difficult to move these teams to somewhere like Marseilles, set them down on a big hard surfaced area, lift the boats into the water and have a regatta. That, to me, is the next big step the Cup has to make. But that is only possible when you are bidding the venue, and only possible when you have a central organising committee.

'The big problem with these campaigns is that they run for too long. The marginal cost to the teams to participate in these Acts is not that great. What we are learning is that the more events you have, the more revenue you are getting. So if we have more events with less burn rate, then the cost drops, and it’s good for everybody.'


After winning the America's Cup in 2010, as Defender, Golden Gate YC had the opportunity to effect many of the changes that are being proposed seven years later, but did not do so.

At this stage it would seem that any changes are not going to be embedded in the Deed of Gift - which would require the sanction of the New York Supreme Court.

That being so, regardless of what is being decided in Chicago this week, or elsewhere, the status quo will remain - that a new Defending Club largely calls the key shots in their America's Cup.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

The full article in the Daily Telegraph can be read by clicking here

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