The announcement of a multihull for the 34th America’s Cup came as a rude shock to some and the delight of others.
It has split the sailing world, like probably no other decision in the Cup’s modern history (the shenanigans of the two Deed of Gift Matches excepted).
Looking back on comments over the past week, and in fact over the past half-decade by the key decision makers, it is clear that the multihull choice has been driven by the objective of developing a sustainable competitive base for the America’s Cup teams that has a life beyond the America’s Cup and Louis Vuitton Cups.
In fact while the sailing world have been trying to digest the multihull choice, it is but one and probably the last of the decisions taken.
The teams, outside the inner sanctum of the Challenger and Defender also seem to be in a quandary over the announcement. Again not so much through working out whether they would rather have preferred a monohull, but working out the cost and revenue streams.
The comment from Emirates Team NZ skipper Dean Barker that the new Protocol 'Reeked of cost', was echoed by others in the world’s top professional sailing team.
While no-one really knows whether it is cheaper to run a wing sailed campaign over a soft sailed campaign for the full Challenger Selection Series and America’s Cup Match. BMW Oracle Racing claim to have run the numbers and say that it is cheaper. Others just don’t have the information base to know.
Crew reductions and non-sailing periods may reduce personnel costs - by what six per boat? Non-sailing periods may reduce wear and tear, but the Surrogate Boat rule is so loose that teams could continue to test on another platform (a trimaran) during the supposed down time. Certainly they would shift to other boats and continue to race.
So the cost cutting measures seem a little hollow.
On the other side there is a mandatory requirement for teams to compete in the America’s Cup World Championship tour, consisting of three regattas in 2011, seven in 2012 and three in 2013, before the teams roll off into the Challenger Selection Series and one continues on to the America’s Cup Match.
If they do not compete in those regattas, then the defaulting teams loses its (USD1.5million) performance bond for the first offence and is out of the competition for the second.
That puts a new spin on Dennis Conner’s comment about 'the Commitment to the Commitment' (used to described his approach to an America’s Cup Defence).
Sign that Protocol and commit to entering the America’s Cup and you are committing to a lot of cost, without knowing if there is any revenue stream associated with those regattas, or where they are even going to be to pitch to sponsors.
If you are backed by a billionaire, or patron group or similar – then the regatta schedule doesn’t really matter as it is all cost, the team owners pay, and if they can get some sponsorship to offset costs, then so much the better. Similarly with Venue Fees, and whether these go to the Competing Teams or do they get burnt up in staging the event?
Add onto that the cost of running a Youth America’s Cup team and one, maybe two AC45’s plus a couple of AC72’s and the 'Reeking of Cost' comment starts to grow some serious teeth.
However we digress, to some extent.
Back in 2005, two years before the 32nd America’s Cup we interviewed Tom Ehman, who was with BMW Oracle Racing and for his sins, was also Chairman of the Challenger Commission. Here is an extract from that interview: BMW Oracle Racing's Tom Ehman has always been one of the visionaries of the sport. While his focus is on 2007, he can’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. This event 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.
'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 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.'
Like airplanes on the tarmac awaiting takeoff Emirates Team New Zealand, NZL82, Luna Rossa Challenge, ITA74 and Desafio Espanol 2007, ESP67 line up to launch for day 2 of the Louis Vuitton Act 9. Trapani, Sicily, Italy. - .. . Click Here to view large photo
The simple idea, in the build up to 32AC was to run a series of preliminary Acts which took place in four venues, Valencia(Spain), Marseille (France) Malmo (Sweden) and Trapani (Italy). Competitors’ yachts and boats along with race management were transported to the venues in a single ship, and the events were run from a wharf or hard stand area that bordered deep water, enabling the boats to be craned from the tarmac into the water without requiring bases, travelifts and the like.
Jump forward five years, and we have a similar regatta circuit proposed, this time under the aegis of the America’s Cup World Championship.
This takes us to the crux of the monohull/multihull decision.
If you are going to run an America’s Cup style regatta, similar to say Auckland in 2003, and those which preceded it, then teams are up for three to five years of design, development and testing before assembling at the regatta venue, 12 months or so before the America’s Cup. All the exposure for sponsors really only starts at the beginning of the Louis Vuitton Cup, when the TV cameras are turned on and the broadcast feed of the racing starts.
In the 32nd America’s Cup, there was some increased revenue opportunity, outside the Main Event, with the Acts.
With the Protocol for the 34th America’s Cup the game has been lifted several levels, with an ambitious circuit of 13 regattas set out.
That schedule then gets us into the area of logistics and transport, and clearly boats need to be able to be rapidly assembled and disassembled to move to the next venue.
If the America’s Cupper used is a lead-bellied monohull then the options are to ship, sail or tow. The options with venues are limited to shipping availability and schedules, and ultimately the only way is to lease a ship, which is more expense.
Go the multihull way, and you have boats with can be disassembled, containerised and are light enough to be shipped, towed by road, or flown to the next venue.
The sailing weight of the AC72 is set at a maximum of 5.8 tonnes, compared to the 24 tonnes of th