America’s Cup: Changing the Deed of Gift

Published on June 7th, 2016

As the America’s Cup seeks to advance its commercial profile, and mature as a broadcast product, there remains one significant obstacle. The Deed of Gift. The document that has kept the competition on solid ground since 1887 is now under threat, according to this report in the British publication The Telegraph

The speed of change in the America’s Cup over the past few years has been extraordinary; the move from monohulls to multihulls capable of flying out of the water on hydrofoils, the creation of a world series packaged neatly into a two-hour window for television, the expansion into new territories and the ­return to iconic stomping grounds such as New York.

But it could be about to get faster still with discussions under way to make the America’s Cup a biennial competition with an expanded but simplified world series using a ‘Cup class’ of boat throughout the entire cycle, The Telegraph can ­reveal.

The proposed changes would be the “logical” next step as the sport seeks to capitalise on the surge of interest and increase its commercial potential, according to Sir Ben Ainslie and Martin Whitmarsh, the team principal and chief executive respectively of Land Rover BAR.

The British team have committed to the America’s Cup for the long term. Land Rover BAR have built a state-of-the-art facility on the Camber in Portsmouth where an interactive ‘Tech Deck’ Education Centre was recently opened by their trust’s royal patron, the Duchess of Cambridge; they have an academy in which they are grooming future America’s Cup sailors; and they are due to announce ­another long-term commercial partner.

But to give such partners value – and to reduce America’s Cup teams’ traditional reliance on wealthy benefactors – there is, they say, a “collective understanding” that the sport must refine and improve upon the radical changes already made.

Among the proposals being discussed as teams prepare to compete in Chicago this weekend at the latest round of the World Series would be to make the Cup cycle much shorter – two years as opposed to four – with teams committing in ­advance to the next cycle and also, importantly, to the next class of boat, rather than waiting for the Defender to announce the new ­protocol and venue, as is the case currently.

This would make it a far easier sell to sponsors and television, ­allowing teams to plan for the long term. The World Series would be made shorter – nine or 10 races to reflect the number of hoped-for ­entries – but would count for more, potentially meaning just the top four qualify for the final Challenger series, from which the winner would face the Defender in the final match race.

Furthermore, and to make matters less confusing to the public, the idea would be to use one class of boat throughout the cycle, which could be refined from race to race, as in Formula One. The current idea would be to continue with the Cup class which will be used in Bermuda next year.

At the moment teams use one type of boat for the World Series, develop a second type of testing boat back at their bases which the public never get to see, and are building a third type of boat for the actual Cup in Bermuda next year.

“Looking at where we are, we have a product which has much greater commercial potential than it ever had before,” argued Whitmarsh, who said that Larry Ellison, the owner of Oracle Team USA, and Russell Coutts, the team’s former CEO who now runs the America’s Cup Event Authority, deserved “huge credit for having the vision and courage” to instigate the changes which have brought it to where it is today.

“But if you wait until a Cup has been won, and then the victor goes away and reflects on how they want to go forward, you immediately lose 18 months to two years of negotiating time. And the public are not ­interested in that process so effectively it’s just a vacuum.

“What we’re saying is that we know the next defender will be one of the six teams currently participating. So there’s nothing to prevent us working together now to define the next Cup. Let’s up the tempo.

“The final clearly has to remain a match race between the Defender and the Challenger. That is fundamental to the principle of the America’s Cup. There is no desire to alter the Deed of Gift. But perhaps we can up the speed at which we get there.”

Ainslie said he realised the proposed changes risked further alienating traditionalists but argued that it was “undoubtedly the right route to take”, with the America’s Cup needing to maintain its position as the pinnacle of sailing technology, just as Formula One is for road cars.

“I’m a bit of a traditionalist ­myself,” he said. “I love the history and the heritage of the America’s Cup. And I was sceptical about the switch to multihulls. But for me what happened in 2013 [when Ainslie won the Cup with Oracle Team USA, helping them to overturn an 8-1 deficit and win 9-8] made it ­absolutely clear that this is the right direction.” Whitmarsh would not put a timeframe on discussions but said he was encouraged by how they were progressing.

“There really appears to be a genuine desire and will now, a realisation that we are on the cusp of something bigger,” he said.

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