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America's Cup: Single challenge opens door of opportunity for excluded teams

by Richard Gladwell 28 Mar 04:08 PDT 29 March 2021
Emirates Team NZ and INEOS Team UK - America's Cup World Series - America's Cup - December 18, 2020 © Richard Gladwell / / nz

If the 37th America's Cup is contested by just a single challenger against the current defender, the move will create opportunities for the excluded teams, and could put them in a very strong position for the 38th America's Cup.

The Deed of Gift, the 19th century apex document which governs the America's Cup, contemplated only a single challenger being accepted, and has not been updated since multiple challengers have participated in a series to select a challenger - a process which began in 1970.

A Notice of Challenge has been accepted from Royal Yacht Squadron Racing by Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, with the approval of Team New Zealand, thus avoiding the possibility of "hip-pocket" challenges such as were lodged by Mercury Bay in 1987 and Golden Gate in 2007.

There is no obligation for the Defender to accept multiple challenges.

Should the Union Jack Match between Team New Zealand and INEOS Team UK proceed, then the two other teams that competed in Auckland, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli and New York YC American Magic are free agents for that Cup cycle, as are any new teams.

The key points announced agreement between the RYSR and RNZYS covering the 37th America's Cup were relevant to a multiple challenger rather than a single challenger Match.


1. That the AC75 would continue as the next America's Cup Class, with an intention to follow the same path, if the two clubs were involved in the 38th America's Cup. Continuation of use of the AC75 class seems to be the single point of agreement between the four teams that competed in Auckland.

2. A nationality clause designed to strengthen an already strong nationality clause, and prevent a potentially expensive open market opening up in the Cup transition period for sailing crews only. But as with the last Cup there is still an open market for key designers and all other team members.

3. The teams will only be permitted to build only one AC75 for "the next event". This dictate is also irrelevant if a single challenger Match is staged for AC37, as other teams can't be bound by a Protocol which they haven't signed for an America's Cup in which they are excluded as a competitor.

Interestingly it would seem that all three Challengers are wanting to leave their boats and bases in Auckland. It's a move which makes sense as they are returning to their home locations and regions which are still in COVID lockdowns/curfews. Plus it gives them a stake in the ground for when an America's Cup is sailed in Auckland.

Publication of the Protocol for the next America's Cup is not expected until after the end of June, at the earliest, and other than INEOS Team UK and ETNZ, all teams are free agents.

Bound by media release?

If AC37 were a multi-challenger event, Luna Rossa and American Magic could be retrospectively bound by the provisions contained in statement released by the British and New Zealand clubs, as potential competitors were effectively put on notice by the joint release. However if AC37 is a single challenger event, then only the two teams which sign the Protocol for AC37 are bound by its provisions.

If they wished, the two teams could undertake all the actions prohibited in the Protocol that governed the just completed Prada Cup and America's Cup.

These include conduct of two boat testing by putting an AC75 each into commission and sailing against each other. Two boat testing was outlawed in the last America's Cup cycle.

As a variation on the two boat testing prohibition, Luna Rossa and American Magic could recommission both their two AC75s and conduct in-house two boat testing. The grinder teams could be replaced with battery power reducing the sailing crew to five or six, and using multinational crews.

Another work around for the various AC75 rules, is to not build a new boat but modify the existing boats beyond the 12.5% of hull surface area permitted for alterations in the last America's Cup cycle. Even more radical would be to build a new hull, and dropping the old deck onto it - as was done with several supermaxi "upgrades".

But most teams now concede that the hull is really just an endplate between the water and the rig, and it is more accurate to think of the AC75 in multihull terms where the hull is referred to as "the platform" to which any combination of spars, wings, foil arms and rudders can be attached, as areas for design development are identified.

Teams that are not signatories to the Protocol for A37 can conduct a more sophisticated weather data gathering program using a setup similar to that used in the IACC era, but outlawed in AC36 as a cost saving measure. Pulling this data into AC75 design programs, while AC37 is underway should improve design knowledge for a Match to be sailed in Auckland.

Teams not included in the Union Jack Match could take a leaf from ETNZ's playbook from 2014-2017 where the Kiwis were unable to sail early in the Cup cycle because of financial constraints. Instead of launching multiple development AC45's, the Kiwis spent their time, and relatively less money, on developing design tools and simulators which paid a big dividend in the 2017 Cup win and carried over into the 2021 Cup win.

Match yarn started in Auckland

Another possibility is setting up an scale AC75 in a wind tunnel to better understand the effect of turbulence generated by the AC75 rig - something that caught both teams unawares in the Match, particularly when they sailed back into their own disturbed air. Wind tunnel testing - prohibited in AC36 as a cost saving measure - would also allow a second means of assessing windflows around the hull and rig, allowing the computer models to be verified. Tank testing was also prohibited and could be another area for the estranged teams to investigate.

The two teams could share performance data, with the objective of being in the strongest possible position for the next multi-challenger selection series, with the objective that they are the two teams to contest the Challenger Final for AC38 - given they already have a head start from their AC75 experience in AC36.

From reports in the UK media it seems that the Union Jack Match yarn had its genesis in Auckland, the day after Team New Zealand's successful defence, and claiming a Luna Rossa source. Since then the story has got legs, with media in UK, New Zealand and Italy feeding off each other. Whether that necessarily adds to the accuracy of the storyline, is another matter.

Almost a week later, in an interview in the Daily Telegraph Sir Jim Ratcliffe made it clear that he wasn't interested in funding a sole challenger match in the UK.

Ratcliffe says he would not fund the event himself, Tom Carey reported in the Telegraph. “Absolutely not,” he [Ratcliffe] says. “I want to be clear about that. Because that would be sort of like buying the Cup into the UK and I don't think that's appropriate.”

It is a good bet that Origin Sports are involved in the possibility of staging the Union Jack Match, along with a few other options - rather than just looking to Ratcliffe to fund the Match.

Origin Sports worked closely with Emirates Team New Zealand putting together the second America's Cup World Series scheduled for Portsmouth in June 2020. Origin Sports also did the heavy lifting on the putting together the Host Venue Guide designed to flush out those interested in staging an America's Cup, defended by Team New Zealand.

The fact that Origin Sports have been used on separate, successive projects indicates that Team NZ are comfortable with Origin's performance and ability to deliver. Origin Sports were formed in 2015 and have been involved in several major projects including the outstanding Hugo Boss campaigns with Alex Thomson, America's Cup World Series, Invictus Games, and SailGP. Majority shareholder Sir Keith Mills has had a long and close association with Ben Ainslie. Sir Keith was also Vice Chairman of the 2012 London Olympic Games organising body.

At this juncture of the 37th America's Cup cycle, despite all the options being bandied about, the situation is as Team New Zealand describes it - that several options are under active consideration.

As well as sorting out a defence, Team New Zealand have to build a commercial model that gives the team a more solid future, as an America's Cup Challenger as well as a Defender

Also on the agenda is how to showcase the AC75 in Europe - given that most fans, and potential sponsors, have still not seen an AC75 sailing in the the 'flesh". The class and Cup need to be sold to fans, venues and sponsors.

A Union Jack Match is but one option. Running the two America's Cup World Series events planned for April and June 2020 is another, with all four teams is another, but would require working in with Italian team Luna Rossa, if the event was to be held at Cagliari. Otherwise taking the ACWS to Newport is the other option, or give all Challengers a "home" ACWS - provided the series can wash its face financially.

The risk for Team New Zealand and INEOS Team UK is that left to their own devices, and without the encumbrances of a Protocol, Luna Rossa and American Magic can make some significant advances - as ETNZ did in 2014-16 when they were ostracized by the other teams.

Bruno Troublé a former America's Cup helmsman, and Olympic representative conceived the Louis Vuitton Cup for the 1980 America's Cup Challenger Selection Series and turned it into the longest running sponsorship in international sport. The French luxury goods and fashion house dropped its involvement after the 2017 America's Cup in Bermuda. Troublé was not involved in that event, but was back in the hot seat in Auckland and was the public face of the Prada Cup and America's Cup in Auckland.

In an interview published on Friday by a leading French sailing newsletter, Troublé gave his thoughts on the Union Jack Match.

"For me, it's a bit of a joke.

"I'm fighting hard now so that the eight existing boats can be used by the new teams, which would mean doing away with the rule concerning the place of construction for the boat, which in my opinion, serves no purpose now. If we did that, the boats could be used by new teams.

"I'm dreaming of getting it up to eight teams," he said.

But Troublé isn't optimistic that a French Challenge will be amongst them.

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