Bob Fisher: Disgracing the America’s Cup
Published on April 11th, 2015
Bob Fisher knows the America’s Cup, perhaps better than anyone. His books and articles have covered the event since 1851, and he considers the event unmatched in its history and intrigue. But what Bob sees now occurring for the 2017 edition gives him grave concern. Here are his words to the America’s Cup Event Authority (ACEA), which manages the event for the current trustee Golden Gate Yacht Club…
I cannot escape notice of what you are doing to the America’s Cup – it has been nothing short of a disgrace to the premier event in the sport of Sailing. You have abused it, misused it and reduced it to no more than an average regatta, losing on the way its prestige and at the same time driven away the most serious competitors.
In the last America’s Cup event, held on the waters of the Golden Gate Yacht Club, for whom you act in a management role, the two challengers that came up to the mark were those from the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron and the Circolo della Vela Sicilia – Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ) and Luna Rossa. In the course of the past week you have made it virtually impossible for ETNZ to raise the necessary funds to continue by removing any chance of a major regatta in Auckland, and, by a huge change in the size of boat, caused the Italian team to withdraw. Is this what you really want?
Gone is all semblance of stability and adherence to rules unanimously agreed at the outset and in their place an undercurrent of commercial misunderstanding and constantly changing rules without the unanimity of the challengers as initially agreed. Both of these are a disgrace to the Cup and to yourselves.
It was brought to my notice by you, in Auckland, that it was important for a part of the Challenger Final Selection Series to be held in the City of Sails in order to generate publicity for the America’s Cup in Asia and the reason for that was a Japanese team would shortly emerge, and that this would encourage television networks to purchase the rights.
Subsequently ACEA has made it clear that ALL Challenger Selection races will be held in Bermuda, effectively slapping ETNZ in the face and reducing the Kiwis’ chances of Government sponsorship (which hung on a major AC regatta in Auckland), possibly even eliminating this team from AC35
It is unnecessary for the America’s Cup to have a television audience. For many years there was no television coverage, and later only inserts into News programmes. Televising the event began in 1983 and was carried to a new height by ESPN in 1987 in Fremantle. Even then it didn’t need catamarans on hydrofoils sailing at 40 knots to be attractive – just 12-Metre yachts in boisterous conditions with some live sound from the boats.
Now, thanks to the wizardry of Stan Honey and his colleagues, full details of the speed and direction of each of the competitors is overlaid on the live pictures of the racing. The technology of other sports has improved television for even the non-sailor, but this does not drive the America’s Cup. Money does. And there will certainly not be enough from television rights to pay for the somewhat unnecessary regattas that take place using the name of the event that has, over 164 years, taken place only 34 times.
The America’s Cup is a one-off event. It does not need promoting with pseudo regattas in the intervening years, which use its name. The Challenger Selection Trials, together with the long lost Defender Selection Trials, are adequate and the responsibility for their expense is down to the individual teams. Now there is a state of affairs in which the Defender trials have been eliminated. In the Protocol, Item 17 clearly states:
“Defender means GGYC and the sailing team that represents GGYC in AC35;”
You have excluded any chance of another US Yacht Club from competing for the Cup, maybe even giving GGYC the type of competition it needs to retain the Cup. Not even the New York Yacht Club (NYYC) felt sufficiently confident to resort to that.
Neither did the NYYC resort to changing the boats at a late date – the move from the AC-62 to the AC-48 has been very last minute and particularly hard on the teams that had set up their design groups well in advance to produce the smaller AC-62, as announced soon after the last AC match. It is hardly surprising that you have put Patrizio Bertelli’s feelings in disarray to the extent he has withdrawn Luna Rossa from AC35. His team had been working since early January 2014 at its headquarters in Cagliari with a Design Office of 40, all working on the design of a 62-footer. I suppose your comment will be: “Silly him,” but you have lost one of the biggest commercial sponsors of the Cup – just look where the Prada advertisements for Luna Rossa appear.
To throw fat on the fire, you are offering to give design and financial support to the French team, which has made little progress, and what is worse attempting to justify this with the terms of the Deed of Gift, where it indicates that the event is to be: “a friendly competition between foreign nations.” But you may well counter this with the quote from the judge of the New York Court of Appeals in the case between the Mercury Bay Boating Club and San Diego Yacht Club, who queried: “Where in the Deed of Gift does it say the America’s Cup is supposed to be fair?”
The loss of Louis Vuitton, after 30 years, is another huge loss of commercial sponsorship, but the writing for that was on the wall in San Francisco.
Everything this time around has been late, and bringing in new entries at this stage is another breach of the Protocol. I implore you to get your act together, remember the event with which you are dealing, with its glorious past, and begin to act in a proper manner.
– Bob Fisher, April 11, 2015