Sailing World December 2013 Cover
As I took an open seat in the aluminum bleachers at the America’s Cup Village at Marina Green, three rows from the top, I had a commanding view of the racecourse, and I paused to soak it all in. It was a balmy September day, for San Francisco, with temperatures in the 80s at the water’s edge and not a cloud in the sky, save for the high tendrils of fog licking the Golden Gate Bridge. The Pacific wind was freshening to 15 knots and beginning to kick up whitecaps. It was a perfect day for a sailboat race, and the seawall was packed.
On the far side of the bay the spectator fleet loitered as the AC72s of Oracle Team USA and Emirates Team New Zealand zipped by. On the water at least, it had the appearance of an America’s Cup race. But around me onshore, I felt as if I’d walked into an entirely different sporting event. With Jumbotrons flanking the bleachers, commentators working the crowd with wireless microphones, music booming from the Red Bull tent, and the live television broadcast feeding into my left ear from my America’s Cup iPhone app, I was in sensory overload heaven. For a moment I felt the same sort of pre-game excitement I get at the New England Patriots’ Gillette Stadium. As I took a sip of my $11 beer, it all sank in: Sailboat racing can be fun to watch.
Granted, my black bleacher seat in “The Deck” section was one of a few made available for the media (first come, first served). Fans that paid premium prices surrounded me and were enjoying them just as much—that is until Oracle Team USA pulled their one postponement card, which got a rousing and deserved “Booo” from the crowd.
There were dozens of vantage points from which to watch the races, and there wasn’t a bad seat in the “stadium” of San Francisco Bay. During my time there I took in the regatta from many perspectives: from the rocks of Crissy Field, staring right down the line of the first reach, on the racecourse boundary inside a hospitality boat watching the television feed, on the race committee boat alongside commentator Gary Jobson, and from the AstroTurf knoll at the America’s Cup park, lounging on a beanbag in front of the Jumbotron.
Back in Rhode Island I watched races on my phone as we sailed back to the harbor during the J/24 North Americans. There’s a common thread here: the television was essential. The production to make it happen all summer long was astounding.
The broadcast level was a first for sailing, the venue was superb, the city was never dull, the concerts were lively, the boats incredible, there was plenty of drama, and Oracle’s comeback story … well, that just topped it all off didn’t it?
But now we have a problem. The bar is way too high. We’ve gorged at the table of Larry Ellison, and should he someday lose the Cup, could anyone but the world’s fifth richest man deliver an event on the scale we witnessed in San Francisco again? Is it sustainable? I’m not so sure, but what I do know is that many individuals laid a strong foundation for us. I’m psyched for AC35, and I’m hoping they stick with foiling catamarans. Thanks for the show, Mr. Ellison. It was awesome.