Harken Derm

America’s Cup: Not quite ready yet

Published on February 16th, 2015

In the pursuit to transform the America’s Cup into a sporting enterprise that would attract a wide audience, the 34th edition incurred significant changes. In 2013 we saw faster boats, shorter races, and accessible courses merged with ground-breaking broadcast tools. The event was now better packaged for live and recorded viewing.

But the one element that any sport needs to attract spectators is good competition, and during the 2013 Challenger races, there was some bad competition. Heck, there were even one boat races. That is as bad as it gets.

For the 35th America’s Cup, the Defender needed to improve the odds that there would be good Challenger competition. They needed to sell the broadcast rights, and bad races don’t fetch much money.

So a new plan was put in place. The Protocol described an opening qualifying round, possibly at a different venue, possibly four months before the Semi-Final round, which would thin the field to only the best four Challengers. That way, when the cameras rolled in Bermuda, the actors would be ready.

The only problem with this plan is that the Challengers hated it. To get team sponsors, it would be imperative that broadcast exposure would be guaranteed. For a Challenger to get eliminated at an earlier qualifying round, and for the sponsor to not enjoy the bright lights of the America’s Cup, it would be a tough package to sell.

Since the Protocol was released June 2, 2014, the elimination series for the Challengers had been a hot topic. When asked in December, Defense CEO Russell Coutts provided a glimmer that a revised plan was being tooled. “That’s under discussion now, but I’m pretty limited about what I can tell you. What I can tell you is, all of the teams will be going to Bermuda.”

The Protocol stated that the venues and dates of the Challenger elimination plan would be released no later than February 15, 2015, which has reportedly occurred, but only privately to the teams. A public announcement is expected during the first week of March.

So we will wait a few more weeks to learn the news, but a report out of Australia has stated that the opening qualifying round will be held in New Zealand in February 2017. What we don’t know is how teams will advance from there to Bermuda, and then on to the final America’s Cup Match in June of 2017.

Standing by…

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