If this is the Road, We Need a New Plan

Published on August 26th, 2013

By Roger Vaughan, author
The Louis Vuitton Cup is over, and one word describes it: boring. Three races were decided on breakdowns. The other five were runaways. Boring to the max.

But wait…that’s nothing new. Those of us who covered the America’s Cup in the 60s and 70s were mostly bored to tears. Those were endless summers of watching one-sided races day after day after day. And the 12Meters often took two or three hours to get around the course, not the 30-odd minutes it takes the AC72s.

The difference is that in the 1960s, the America’s Cup wasn’t being marketed as a television sport. In 2013, the emphasis has been to put sailboat racing on TV. We’ve got the electronic playing field created by Stan Honey and his gang, a remarkable innovation that allows anyone to understand what’s going on. But we still don’t have much in the way of competition. Therein lies the problem.

TV sports require lead changes, not parades. And with a few notable exceptions, America’s Cup races tend to be parades. Why? Because since the radically-designed schooner America won the Isle of Wight race in 1851, this event has been a design contest. In a design contest, the fastest boat wins, and usually the winner is significantly faster, hence the parade.

If the America’s Cup is going to evolve into the 21st Century and become a TV sport, a few changes will be necessary. First and foremost, the Cup needs to end the design contest and opt for a fast, one design. That’s not such a radical idea. The design contest was appropriate when developing nations (like the USA) were eager to show their prowess in design and technology. Now there is no national pride left in the Cup, and all the secrets are available on the internet.

One designs would make for greatly improved competition that is badly needed both for TV, and for the event. Require the crews to be from the competing countries, and national pride would be restored.

Editor’s note: For those of you hoping for close racing when the 34th America’s Cup begins on September 7, history is not on your side. Dating back to the 1987 Match, the winner has gone undefeated in six of the eight matches.

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