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Jobson Report: Letter to Larry

Gary Jobson pens a letter to Larry Ellison with his thoughts on the direction for the 35th America’s Cup.

December 10, 2013
Red Bull Youth America's Cup

Red Bull Youth America’s Cup

Nationality requirements, like those used during the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup, could bolster interest in the next edition of the America’s Cup. Red Bull/Balazs Gardi

Congratulations to you and Oracle Team USA for defending the America’s Cup. The come-from-behind victory was an inspiring example of determination and the will to win. Your team’s technological advances and dramatic improvement was astounding.

The America’s Cup captivated the attention of sailing fans worldwide. After the last race, I was leaving the television broadcast center when a fan from the Midwest approached me with great enthusiasm and yelled out, “Because of your television and these incredible races, I just bought my first sailboat.” The last time I heard comments like this came after the 1987 Cup when Dennis Conner’s_ Stars & Stripes_ attracted huge viewing audiences in the U.S. Building interest in sailing is an important goal, in fact a responsibility, for the America’s Cup.

The 34th Defense got off to a slow start with one-boat races, mismatches, wind limit issues, no defense trials, and a tragic accident. When the score stood 8-1, with Emirates Team New Zealand one win from claiming the Cup, there was only modest interest. But, when your team started its long march to victory, interest in the Cup soared. Was it the boats, or was it a human-interest story? I believe the narrative was more about the people.

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With the momentum generated in San Francisco, the big question now revolves around the format and protocol for the 35th America’s Cup defense.

For the past 30 years, many discussions and proposals have suggested that the America’s Cup should be managed by an independent commissioner, similar to other sports. The commissioner’s mission would be to manage the event, ensure fairness, and raise the profile of the Cup. Law experts tell me changing the America’s Cup Deed of Gift would be very difficult. The 34th America’s Cup had one person in charge of the event, and your team. Separating those two functions will help encourage potential challengers to organize campaigns.

One of the biggest problems holding back challengers is the astronomical cost of competing. It will be very difficult for syndicates to raise $100 million dollars to mount a campaign at the level of this past year. A more achievable figure might be around $20 million. This would require far less expensive boats, fewer people on the payroll, and a shorter time frame for the campaign. This would also allow only one boat per team, shared purchases of equipment, and a venue that provides waterfront facilities and other services like launching, dockage, and security.

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Some suggest a one-design class, but this runs contrary to what the authors of the Deed of Gift envisioned. There should be a design competition. Sailing benefits from the innovations developed for each Cup.

The question of whether to use a monohull or a multihull is a tough one. The cats are fast, but I missed the setting of spinnakers, the elegance of the pre-start, the sustained tacking and jibing duels, and a large contingent of challengers and defenders. While I am guessing that you are likely to continue with a catamaran that is somewhat smaller than an AC72, I encourage your syndicate to take a good look at the TP52 concept. It has proven to be a fast, development-rule boat. A 52 footer is too small for the America’s Cup, but a boat in the 75-foot range might work well. These boats could be raced well into the future.

Everyone was disappointed that there were only three challenges and one defense team. A more realistic budget will help get more boats on the water. There have not been defense trials since 1995 in San Diego. Since 1983, the challengers have won five times and the defenders have won five times. You will have to provide incentives for teams from around the U.S. to mount a defense. One idea would be to allow a successful defense team to take the Cup to their home waters.

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Including fleet races as part of the America’s Cup would also help build interest. The challengers and defenders could race together, or in separate divisions. Perhaps the top four finishers in the fleet-race trials would qualify for a match-race semi-finals. The winners of those matches would meet for the America’s Cup. As an alternative, the top four challengers might eliminate down to one team, and the top defenders would have their own match-race series. The winners of both brackets would meet in the Cup final. This concept was used in the Olympic Games between 1992 and 2000. Sponsors would benefit from teams competing up to the end of the competition.

You and your managers introduced several bold concepts for the 34th Cup, including reaching starts, short races, boundaries, innovative changes to “The Racing Rules of Sailing,” accurate umpiring from land and water, creative television production, new safety requirements, extreme boats, and racing along the shoreline. These ideas improved the America’s Cup. I encourage you to create a panel that includes race officials, television executives, race organizers, sponsors, and even some fans to discuss what worked well and develop some new ideas. Collective wisdom is a helpful tool.

Two races per day was a good idea. However, the long 32-minute wait for the second race made it difficult to keep interest. Most sailing events only have a 15-minute interval between heats. The maximum wind range of 23 knots (adjusted for current) was necessary as a safety requirement for the 34th Cup. I hope the next generation AC boats will be able to sail in 30 knots. This was the limit used in Fremantle, Australia, in 1987. The time limit of 40 minutes for a 10-mile race was not realistic. Either the minimum wind limit should have been higher than 5 knots, or the time limit should have been extended.

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Requiring national crews would dramatically elevate interest in the America’s Cup. I understand that this concept might run counter to your business and sports team philosophy. The most popular international sporting events, such as the Olympic Games, World Cup soccer, and golf’s Ryder Cup, generate huge audiences. All of these feature nationality requirements. Abundant sponsorship funding follows each of these events. Building national crews helps every challenging nation develop talent. Using the Olympic qualification system would be a good place to start. I speak to over 100 groups every year. When I talk about the need for national crews, I receive overwhelming positive response for the concept. The America’s Cup Deed of Gift was written as “a perpetual Challenge Cup for friendly competition between foreign countries.”

Receiving strong challenges from around the world will give the 35th Defense a big boost of energy. Syndicates will be able to raise the funds if they believe there is a realistic chance that their team can win. In the 1970s, the number of challenges grew when New York YC opened up the competition by allowing equipment to be used that was not manufactured in the team’s country. When Australia won in 1987, many yacht clubs were encouraged to try to win the Cup and take it to their home waters. The 1987 America’s Cup drew huge television audiences. Every sailor represented his own country. People cared.

If you decide to change venues, it is important to keep the event in the U.S. Throughout most of the regatta, you were not visible. I encourage you to be more available. Your team will benefit from additional fan support.

The time gap between defenses has ranged from one year to 19 years since 1870. A three-year pause will allow time for teams to raise funds and a design group to develop a more affordable boat, and the thrilling conclusion to the 34th Cup will still be fresh in people’s minds. Good luck as you work to advance our sport into the future.

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