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America’s Cup: A view from the trenches

Published on May 10th, 2021

Lynn Fitzpatrick has witnessed her share of shenanigans amid the America’s Cup, and shares here a view from the trenches:

No prize money goes to the America’s Cup winner. In addition to claiming the bragging rights to the oldest contested trophy in international sport, the victor earns the right to maintain its advantage in defending the Cup. It gets to set the dates, venue, and terms for the next edition.

It’s also a golden opportunity for a savvy club and insiders to capitalize on the redevelopment of the club’s “home” shoreline or port. With the promise of economic development, the Club often obtains the political will needed exact approvals, concessions, and subsidies to pull it all together. A well-executed effort can generate $billions.

So let me get this straight, a syndicate from New York Yacht Club wins a silver urn in 1851. The surviving syndicate member donates the trophy to the New York Yacht Club accompanied by a Deed of Gift calling for the Cup to be “preserved as a perpetual challenge Cup for friendly competition between foreign countries”.

Over time, the Deed gets rewritten twice and amended a couple of times with the upshot being that the New York Yacht Club succeeded in maintaining its advantage for 132 years. After going on an America’s Cup sabbatical for a number of years, the Club is now seeking a more permanent seat at the table along with the current defender and the two other Clubs that competed in the 36th America’s Cup.

Kudos to New York Yacht Club for drafting a protocol with a goal of achieving long-term commercial viability. For we all know, he who writes the document automatically starts out with an advantage by knowing what’s in it and what has been intentionally left out.

New York Yacht Club’s draft gives every team that participated in the 36th America’s Cup a bonus previously only granted the Defender – they each get to host the America’s Cup while the new entity, America’s Cup Racing, Inc. it puts on.

But how motivated is an America’s Cup aspirant team going to be if the juiciest prizes for winning (maintaining one’s advantage by setting the date, venue, and rules) are taken off the table?

For the America’s Cup to be commercially appealing it needs more teams – teams with messages and missions that are relevant to this day and age; characters and heroes that have mass appeal; a strong event lineup; underdogs; rivalries; an even playing field; and the outside chance that a newcomer may win everything, including the right to try to maintain its advantage.

What’s needed is to eliminate arbitrary barriers to entry. Teams that apply and pay their fees on time, should be allowed to compete for as long as their resources permit. Isn’t that what happens in business, entertainment, and other sports?

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