Questioning the traditions of the America’s Cup

Published on November 24th, 2014

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt
The unofficial announcement that Bermuda will host the 35th America’s Cup in 2017 has stirred discussion from all corners. While the venue won’t be confirmed until December 2, there are two themes to the comments:

► Opinions over which of the venue finalists – San Diego or Bermuda – would be best for the event. The only agreement is that 2013 host San Francisco would be better than both.

► How this will be the first American crew to defend the title outside of the United States.

While the venue preference is in the eye of the beholder, tradition is a stickier subject.

The defender of the America’s Cup has always hosted the event in their country… when able. The only previous exception was in 2007 and 2010, when the landlocked Société Nautique de Genève – located in Geneva, Switzerland – held the racing in Valencia, Spain.

The decision taken by the current holder of the Cup, Golden Gate Yacht Club in San Francisco, CA, or more accurately their sailing team, to take the event outside of their country has different motivation. They are doing so because they want to, not because they have to.

We may learn their reasons. We may not. However, perhaps the question to ask is whether it’s time to turn the page on the tradition of the America’s Cup being held in the country of the defender.

Like it or not, the event is writing a new chapter. There is a push now to maximize the commercial opportunities for the America’s Cup. But in his role to fulfill this task, Commercial Commissioner Dr. Harvey Schiller acknowledges the elephant in the room.

“The biggest weakness commercially for events like America’s Cup is that you can’t commit the sponsor beyond the current years of the Cup.”

Locking up the key partners – venue, broadcast, and advertisers – is now a stop-start program. Read: inefficient. As long as the venue choice falls to the defender, per the Deed of Gift, the America’s Cup may be stuck in irons… commercially.

An alternative example is the FIFA World Cup – the world’s most widely viewed sporting event. The World Cup popularity stems from soccer’s accessibility for all ages, but also in how its premiere event touches the international community.

The World Cup – held every four years – has been to Asia, Europe, North America, and South America. In its 84 year history, the World Cup has been held in 16 countries. By comparison, the America’s Cup has been to 4 countries in 144 years.

As we wait for confirmation on the venue of the 2017 America’s Cup, we already know the 2018 World Cup will be in Russia, and the 2022 World Cup will be in Qatar. The 2026 tournament venue is expected to be announced seven years in advance.

For the America’s Cup to move beyond its current rules which dictate defender-driven venue selection, to a bid system similar to other major sports, it would allow for long term planning and commercial optimization.

This of course would mean that the America’s Cup would likely not be held in the country of the defender. Just like it appears will be the case in 2017.

How the structure gets changed is a conversation for another day. The question for now is should it even be asked.

What do you think?

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