The Joint Statement issued on Friday, by four European America's Cup teams, appears to indicate a change of stance in relations between the Defender and Challengers.
Most obvious absence was that of long-standing Challenger, Emirates Team New Zealand, otherwise all would have been sweetness and light.
The timing of the statement seemed a little strange coming so soon after the Competitors Meeting in Los Angeles, two weeks previously. A week after the LA meeting, the Challenger of Record for the 35th America's Cup, Hamilton Island Yacht Club, unexpectedly announced that they would be not be entering the Regatta and gave 90 days notice of their resignation.
There was no release from the LA Meeting as is common, such communiques usually covers the main points - usually in a very uncontroversial manner.
This latest release seemed by its style to have been penned by Luna Rossa - widely regarded as the heir apparent to the now-vacant Challenger of Record role. They were the first of the Challengers to release a copy to media.
The release opened with the comment that the four teams would support the event regardless of the venue selected.
But they didn't name the venues (Bermuda and San Diego are the two that have been publicly short-listed).
The well connected international yacht correspondent, Stuart Alexander, writing in the UK's The Independent outlined the position of the Challengers in the Los Angeles meeting as follows:
'The six from the UK, Australia, New Zealand, France, Italy and Sweden took the opportunity to say that they disapproved of the move to drop San Francisco as the venue, expressed varying degrees of dislike for the two remaining venue choices, San Diego and Bermuda, made clear that they did not want the event split between two venues, one possibly in the southern hemisphere, and wanted to see supervisory provisions, which at the moment bypass the sport’s world governing body, the Southampton-based International Sailing Federation (ISAF), reviewed.'
Alexander's report was confirmed as being substantially correct by Iain Murray the CEO of Hamilton Island Yacht Club.
So why the change in position from 'expressing varying degrees of dislike for the two remaining venue choices, San Diego and Bermuda' to 'confirm their full support to to the event, regardless from (sic) the host venue that will be selected'?
The joint statement also appeared very quickly on the America's Cup website, which had ignored the Competitors Meeting two weeks before, despite representatives from America's Cup Events Authority and Oracle Team USA being present.
Without a whole lot of gazing at the America's Cup tea-leaves, it seems that there has been a change of heart within some of the Challenger ranks, and that of ACEA. They seem to be of the mind to work together for the good of the 35th America's Cup and get the platform for the event properly established.
If so, and that is a welcome change for the Cup, the Defender will need to be more inclusive on the venue selection - particularly why it cannot be sailed it GGYC's home waters.
Probably the surprise from the statement is that announcement is that Franck Cammas, and Team France are featuring strongly.
In early July the French team announced that international sports and media company Infront Sports and Media had been appointed to assist with marketing operations. The company claims 20 offices in 11 countries. A French sailing website reported about the same time that a significant sponsorship was about to be signed for Team France. Another Competitors Meeting?
That aside the statement said little and was probably intended to trigger a number of stories with the various team spokesmen being quoted, so that a unified front on the America's Cup was being presented, and any concerns placated with the two venues.
Next move in the unified approach is expected to be another Competitors meeting which has been called by America's Cup Events Authority for London in the next week or so.
The same teams and groups that attended the Los Angeles meeting are expected to attend with the exception of Team Australia and Team New Zealand.
The stance of the latter is not surprising, but it is not known whether they elected not to attend or were not invited. Right click here
for Stuart Alexander's update.
The Breakfast TV attack on the team in the New Zealand media by Oracle Team USA, caused serious problems for the team and will not be easily forgotten. The reason for this and other similar episodes have never been explained, and the motives are questionable at best.
When asked why the team had not appeared in an America's Cup promotional video which featured comment by by four Challenger teams, Team NZ CEO, Grant Dalton retorted 'why would we want to blow smoke up Oracle's arse?'
It is believed that the meeting will be held in London in the next week, ahead of the close of entries on August 8, 2014. That being so, it has no status under the Protocol, and neither did the Competitors Meeting held in Los Angeles.
Not putting too fine a point on the issue, there is little point in Team New Zealand making any public statement or appearance, over the next couple of months, in regard to the America's Cup.
After the public furore triggered by the media attacks by Oracle Team USA and the team's own Black Friday media conference, Team New Zealand seems to have adopted the policy of saying little in public. They will be mindful of not becoming an election issue, with a national Election just over 50 days distant, and the current Government set to be re-elected for a third term without needing the support of coalition partners.
Getting your name on statements about supporting America's Cup venues, or flying twice in three weeks to attend America's Cup Meetings could be the trigger for another media outcry about the team's spending. Repeat appearances in that context could also be taken as the team being committed to making an America's Cup entry, when apparently that formal decision has not yet been made.
Any statement in that regard will either come when entries are announced by ACEA, as required by the Protocol, or maybe ahead of that time by the team or its club, Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron.
Once the Entry date of August 8, has passed, all entered teams will automatically have the right and obligation to attend Competitor Forum meetings where decisions on some Protocol changes can be made by majority vote of the teams. A key decision to be made will be the appointment of a Regatta Director, who is decided by the majority vote of the Competitor Forum. It is then up to the Regatta Director to sort out the relationship with the International Sailing Federation, who were barely mentioned in the initial draft of the Protocol. Come to Alameda?
It would also seem that a new San Francisco venue has comeback onto the America’s Cup horizon, with Alameda being reported by Stuart Alexander, as having sent their credentials to ACEA. The report was confirmed by US sources.
Alameda is governed by a different civic body, and was the base for two of the Challengers, Artemis and Luna Rossa, in the 34th America’s Cup, who were housed in an old seaplane base.
Shifting the teams across the harbour to Alameda, would still allow the teams to compete on San Francisco Bay, which has in the past been cited as the preferred venue of the Challenger group.
The other point of significance from the Joint Statement by the European teams is that on the assumption that all, plus Team New Zealand do go ahead an lodge Challenges, then there will be a total of five Teams Challenging. That triggers the clause in the Protocol requiring that a Qualifying Series (Round Robins) be held separate from the America’s Cup Play-Offs (Semi-Finals and Finals). The Qualifying Series will be held in a separate venue.
At least two teams (Artemis Racing and Ben Ainslie Racing) are believed to be against this occurring, due to cost and logistics, plus the early elimination of teams.
Others see new opportunities arising from the move to a split venue series.
The five challenging teams would swell to six for the Qualifiers as they are joined by Defender Oracle Team USA who is also required to sail in the Series, from which the winner takes a point into the America’s Cup Match.
Four months have to lapse between the Qualifiers and the start of the Play-Off phase dictating that the Qualifier Series would have to be held in a Southern hemisphere location in January or February.
The teams’ AC62 yachts cannot be launched until 150 days (five months) before the start of the Qualifiers and can only sail against another team in the venue of the Qualifiers. It is now prohibited for teams to work up against each other in the way that Luna Rossa and Team New Zealand did prior to the 34th America’s Cup in Auckland, before shipping out to San Francisco.
Auckland would seem to be an obvious candidate, given that the timing of the Qualifier would be during the summer period, there is good infrastructure for the teams, along with substantial marine industry resources.
When approached by Sail-World, last month inquiring as to whether Auckland would be interested in hosting the Qualifier, the CEO of Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development, Brett O’Riley commented:
'Given Auckland's heritage in yachting and the fact that we are blessed with one of the most superb harbours in the world for sailing events, Auckland is an obvious possible southern hemisphere location for the Qualifiers. We do not yet know whether the organisers of the 35th America's Cup are considering Auckland as a venue or not. If the ACEA were to make a bidding process for the America's Cup Qualifiers clear, then like any other major event, we may consider putting a bid in.'
ATEED has invested over $5.5 million from its Major Events into hosting the next two Volvo Ocean race stopovers, in Auckland. The events are expected to inject $7.5 million into the region’s GDP. The stopovers last almost three weeks.
An America's Cup Qualifier Series would last for approximately a month, have a lead-in of up to five months sailing time for teams in AC62’s (total duration of six months, plus break down), and would have six teams competing with and average team size of 100 people in each.
By comparison, the America’s Cup Match would be five teams for about three to four months duration, with a similar team size.
Obviously the PR impact of the America’s Cup Play-Offs and Match is more than that of the Qualifiers. But the injection of spending into the local economy is comparable with the two events, due to the longer duration and more teams.
Quite how all the venue and Protocol permutations gel will no doubt emerge from various meetings, official and otherwise, over the next few months and after entries close on August 8, 2014.
The bottom line with this latest statement is that there seems to have been a change in attitude between the Defender and Challenger groups, and hopefully there will be a more constructive and positive approach, along with the realization that all decisions need to be by consensus in the best interest of the teams and event.