New Zealand born journalist, Michelle Slade, now based in San Francisco, interviews Craig Thompson, CEO of America's Cup Event Management for the Marin Journal:
With perhaps the biggest challenge for the AC34 out of the way now that San Francisco has been named as venue for the 2013America's Cup, Craig Thompson, CEO of the America's Cup Event Authority (ACEA), confirms that indeed, his team will begin setting up shop in San Francisco this month to start work on the mammoth task ahead of building a world-class waterfront event venue.
Thompson, who is married with two children (17-year old daughter and 14-year old son), lived and worked in Europe from 1986 to 2009 and comes to the Cup after a long involvement in the UEFA (soccer) Champions League. Sailing journalist Michelle Slade chatted with Thompson from his home in Newport Beach, California about the big job ahead.
With the venue announced, what's the biggest challenge your team now faces going into this project?
Craig Thompson: In addition to getting established in San Francisco and staffing up, probably our biggest three priorities include finding the commercial partners to now support the event, necessary like any big event to make it first-class. Those sponsors are a critical priority right now. Re-signing Louis Vuitton was a great show of confidence from them and sets the stage as finding the first sponsor is often the most difficult. We're doing a lot of work on how we're going to televise this event. We know we have to upgrade and innovate in television production in order to make it much more exciting for the average viewer of sports - we hope to capture that new fan with new technology and innovative techniques. We're also talking to broadcasters all over the world who we want to take the signal to show to their audiences.
When can locals expect to see things begin to happen, for example, construction, teams move to town etc?
Craig Thompson: We are now going to engage with the California Environmental Quality board who have to take a look at all the construction we will need to do need in order to make an environmental assessment. It'll take 6-12 months to get through that. We're obviously hoping that will be closer to six months than a year. The City is going to be supporting us as much as they can on that but until that process is finished we really can't start anything. If that process is completed in six months we'll start construction and we're getting plans ready for in the mean time. We've already done a lot of work in that regard. We really want to start as soon as possible but we do have to go through the normal environmental channels. The America's Cup World Series event starts in June, 2011 and with construction starting sometime in the next 6 months to a year we could be ready to have something in place for a 2012 World Series event in San Francisco. We're considering, and what we'd like to do depending on the status of the construction and the infrastructure, is to have the final race of the first America's Cup World Series (in the AC45) in San Francisco, then back to back the first race of the next World Series in San Francisco (in the AC72), so that could be a really exciting time in the summer of 2012. That'll be interesting as people will have a chance to see the different boats racing. We think the teams will start arriving six months to a year before the actual start of racing in August 2013.
What else is being worked on while you wait for the EIR and when do you expect to have people on the ground in San Francisco?
Craig Thompson: We've already surveyed office space in San Francisco and are planning to be there this month. There is so much work to do and we'll need to be in constant conversations with so many people - the City of San Francisco, the engineers, the architects, planners, the Port - we have to be there as soon as possible. We're going to start building up a staff in January and will continue building that staff up until we get to the America's Cup match at which time we'll probably have about 150 people on board just dedicated to ACEA. In addition to that we have ACRM (America's Cup Race Management), which acts independently to us but will also be moving into San Francisco with staff probably in 2011 to start planning the racecourse and related activities. It'll be a gradual build-up starting immediately and through the summer of 2013. Our focus is to make this Cup into much more of a public interest event with newer, much faster boats and it being in San Francisco - this is a chance you don't get very often in sports to really transform the image of a sport and it's exciting.
What sort of hiring will you be doing locally?
Craig Thompson: We want to involve as many people from America and specifically California and San Francisco as possible. Not only do we want to do that because we want to support the City and do what's right for the country but it's in our economic interests to hire local people rather than bringing in people from all over the world which costs a lot of money. With that said, we do have a number of people aboard already who are not located in San Francisco but who are professionals in sports marketing, television production who aren't US citizens. But, as we build out staff we're going to very much focus on finding local people.
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