Harken Derm

America’s Cup: Bet on self-interest

Published on March 29th, 2015

It’s times like this when we reflect on what Dennis Conner said. As four-time winner of the America’s Cup, Dennis has seen all forms of finagling when it comes to the event. And when trying to sort out the motivation of others, Dennis cuts to core.

“Bet on self-interest,” he observes. “It’s always running.”

Last week it was announced that the competitors and organizers of the 2017 America’s Cup were planning to implement a series of rule changes to dramatically reduce team operational costs, primarily by racing in a smaller boat than the previously announced AC62.

But reducing the boat size was not a new proposal. In fact, this was voted on last year. It failed.

Only two teams, believed to be Team New Zealand and Oracle Team USA, supported it then. Why? Kiwis lacked money and Oracle needed entries.

So why is this proposal being floated again?

In February, both Oracle and Artemis Racing launched custom 45-foot test platforms to validate design ideas for their AC62s, and these boats (which look remarkably similar – wink, wink) posted performance numbers close to the AC72s used in the 2013 America’s Cup.

And while speed is important, so is the commercial component, and the test boats looked hot on camera. Little sister had speed and sex appeal. Why pay for Porterhouse when Filet will do?

There are five official challengers, and three of them need money: Brits, French, Kiwis. There is also one team, and possibly two teams, whose entries may be accepted if the budget to compete gets lowered.

But this proposal is still not fully supported.

The Italians don’t want it because they don’t need it. They have money, and are already down the design road toward the AC62. A change now shifts any advantage they have back to the field.

The Kiwis are saying they don’t want it either, a result of a crafty amendment that connects reducing the boat size to simplifying the event schedule.

The first round of qualifying racing was to be held at a separate location from Bermuda, likely in Auckland, which had motivated the New Zealand government to help fund the Kiwi team. But the two venue plan was expensive for everyone else, and now the proposal moves all racing to Bermuda, which could cost the Kiwis their government support.

The only challenger without obvious self-interest is Artemis Racing, backed by billionaire Torbjörn Törnqvist, which doesn’t need a discount. But the Swedish team is chummy with Oracle and the Brits, so that alliance may offer equity in the future.

The phones were busy this past weekend to get everyone on the same page. The Italians have already threatened to withdraw if the proposal is passed, and the Kiwis may not be far behind.

Teams are being asked to vote on the proposals this week. A simple majority is all that’s needed. Standing by for the count…

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