Greed Tarnishes the Cup

Editor at large Gary Jobson makes a plea for common sense in the squabble over the 33rd America's Cup. "Jobson Report" from our September 2007 issue

JobsonSept368
Guido Cantini/acm

For the fourth time in the 156-year history of the America's Cup both teams had a realistic chance of winning. The racing was exciting, interesting, and fun to watch. The Swiss defender, Alinghi, won 5-2 over Emirates Team New Zealand in a fair and square match. Every race could easily have gone the other way, but Alinghi had the speed and tactical smarts when it counted most. Everything seemed perfect for the next match, and then arrogance and greed took over. Yikes, this can't be happening again!Since 1958 when the modern Cup format took hold, the winners have accumulated a commanding 67-9 race record. Occasionally the racing was close, as we witnessed in 1970 and 1983. We've seen a few upsets in individual races along the way-1962, 1980, and 1992. But let's face it, other than the winner-take-all Race 7 showdown in 1983, most of the races were boring; until last summer. For a change, the skills of the crews, rather than those of the technological wizards, decided the race. Things were looking up for sailing's big show, but trouble was brewing.At the prize giving immediately following the decisive race, Alinghi syndicate head Ernesto Bertarelli announced that the team would reveal the important details of the next match two days later. But in a major snub to the Cup community, there was little substantial news released at that press conference, just a few vague promises of when more information would be made public. There would be a new 90-foot boat, but the deadline for the rule was Dec. 31, 2007. Of course that would give Alinghi a six-month head start on research and design. Alinghi would also get to run the challenger races and sail against the challengers, when it deemed appropriate. And to top it off, the Challenger of Record would be some group called Club Nautico Español de Vela, which isn't even a yacht club as specified in the Deed of Gift. Alinghi's actions did not create a harmonious beginning for the 33rd match. It may be time for a new America's Cup Class, considering the new technology available, but Alinghi should include every stakeholder in the process. The way it is being handled now, 100 ACC yachts are instantly obsolete. How are teams going to recover when their assets are suddenly diminished?A counter to the Alinghi protocol was a surprise challenge by the Golden Gate YC and Larry Ellison's Oracle Racing, calling for a best-of-three series in 90-foot boats, with a 3-foot draft, 90-foot beam, a single mast, and twin 20-foot daggerboards. So here we go again with another catamaran. Of course Ellison's real goal is to force a renegotiation of the protocol that will feature the America's Cup in Valencia in ACC yachts. According to an inside source at Alinghi, Ellison's not the only one who found fault with the protocol. Bertarelli reportedly acted against the advice of skipper Brad Butterworth and in-house lawyer Hamish Ross.The mastermind behind Ellison's challenge is Thomas F. Ehman Jr., who is no stranger to Cup controversy. He was the San Diego YC's Cup manager during the 1988 catamaran fiasco. This time Ehman is on the other side of the equation. Within a few weeks Ellison's challenge had a strong effect on Alinghi's actions. Valencia was named as a venue for the next Cup in 2009. Ellison has filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court of New York claiming that the CNEV is not a legitimate Challenger of Record. The court made it clear back in 1988 that they did not want to see an America's Cup argument again. The court and the Deed of Gift call for "mutual consent" by the parties. Hopefully, the players will see that they are doing sailing a disservice just as we were getting some much needed attention.While Alinghi and BMW Oracle are hashing out that disagreement, there are a few other things to ponder about the 32nd edition of sailing's biggest event. America's Cup Management issued a lot of positive numbers about the 32nd America's Cup, including visitors to Valencia, television ratings, and spectator fleets. But if the numbers were so good why did Louis Vuitton, the 25-year sponsor of the challenger selection series, end its long involvement with the America's Cup? ACM made this Cup a profit center; no other time has this happened to such an extent. As far as the numbers are concerned, I have a few of my own. In races 2, 3, 4, and 5, I personally counted about 300 spectator craft on the water. My vantage point was high up on the bridge of a passenger vessel with a clear view. ACM reported 800 boats. But even an 800-boat fleet is far smaller then what we saw in Auckland, Fremantle, and Newport. In the United States, the American television audience was disappointing. According to the AC Neilson television rating service, the Versus cable network averaged 50,700 homes during its live coverage of the Louis Vuitton Cup and 90,000 homes during the America's Cup. A few weeks later the scandal-plagued Tour de France had three times as many viewers.America has a tremendous number of talented, young sailors racing Optimists, competing on high school teams and college teams. When the only American boat has just three Americans on board, why should our young sailors care?Two weeks before the Cup, I spent five days covering the college nationals for ESPN. The nationals were taking place during the Louis Vuitton Regatta. I found it curious that there was no chatter about the Cup by any of the college sailors. One night I showed my film on the history of the America's Cup to 300 collegiate sailors. But the next day there was still no chatter. So I started asking questions. I was saddened to learn there was little or no interest. It was far different for me and my contemporaries like Tom Whidden and Steve Van Dyke. We all grew up hoping one day to take part. When we did, it was a dream come true. Here in the United States, the America's Cup is losing its appeal. If Ellison wants the country to support his efforts he needs to recruit an American team. Clearly Alinghi and New Zealand believed in American talent. Ellison recently hired Russell Coutts to be the team's new CEO. BMW Oracle Racing failed with Chris Dickson serving as skipper and overall manager. Coutts will have a lot of pressure taking on the same roles as Dickson. Furthermore, its about time that Ellison started flying America's colors. It bothered me and many other American visitors in Spain that we never saw an American ensign flying from the boat, or an American flag painted on the hull or sails or over the team's immense compound. All around the harbor huge national flags flew proudly from the roofs. Italy, Spain, France, China, and New Zealand all had flags, but not the United States. Francis Scott Key surely would be annoyed.A BMW executive in the United States told me that at one point the American ambassador to Spain visited the BMW Oracle compound and noticed the lack of an American flag. So the ambassador sent an American flag to Ellison, but there was never a reply. Understanding the history of the America's Cup is important. ACM and Alinghi would do well to study the past. Starting in the 1930s, when the New York YC held the Cup, it would make a special point of announcing some time before the end of each America's Cup regatta all the relevant details for the next match: when, where, and what type of boat. Following suit, after winning in 1983, Alan Bond immediately welcomed the world to Perth, Western Australia, in 12 Meters. He knew the importance of the New York YC's routine. The San Diego YC got into trouble after winning in 1987 by delaying any announcement, hence opening the door for New Zealander Michael Fay's big-boat challenge. San Diego YC and Dennis Conner answered with a catamaran. The top court in New York ruled in favor of the San Diego YC after a prolonged legal battle. Bertarelli will fight the Golden Gate YC challenge. Frankly I hope cooler heads prevail and the parties agree to sit down and come up with a reasonable format that is fair for every team. If the America's Cup wants to attain premier status as a major sport here is my formula: 1. Announce that the next match will take place in Valencia in 2010 (2009 is too early). 2. A new boat should be developed by all stakeholders for the 34th America's Cup. But the current ACC boats should be used one more time. 3. Every member of the sailing, management, and design teams should be a national of the country they represent. 4. The challengers should be responsible for selecting the team that meets Alinghi. ACM should have no influence on the trials nor should they be included in the challenger's races. 5. Find a way to cut the astronomical costs of competing so there can be greater participation. So while current fog surrounding the 33rd America's Cup drives sailors and fans away, the bigwigs would do well to sit down and think of the future of sailing, not rigging things to their own advantage. If they do, the America's Cup might become important again.