America’s Cup: Has much changed?

Published on May 11th, 2021

When this report by Scott MacLeod was published in 2014, it was in response to the current holders of the America’s Cup seeking to create a commercially “sustainable” event in 2013.

MacLeod, as the President of Force10 Marketing, a sponsorship sales consultancy, and former Commercial Director for American Magic during the 2021 America’s Cup, was involved in the commercial side of the 2007 edition and witnessed what worked well.

Has much changed in 2017 and 2021? You be the judge…

The 2007 America’s Cup in Valencia, Spain delivered the most commercially viable event in the history of the Cup:

• 60M euro profit distributed to the teams ­ yes, a profit!
• 11 Challengers
• 9 Countries

The 2007 numbers carried on from the 2000 and 2003 America’s Cup in New Zealand, which showed sponsors a positive upward trend in the ‘commercial’ development of the event. However, the wholesale changes that were instituted for the 2013 event in San Francisco have not shown a significant change to make the commercial ‘product’ better.

The current model has, and will continue to, deliver less teams which equals less commerce. The math is actually pretty simple: Less Teams = Less Countries = Less Broadcasters = Less Exposure = Less Sponsors Interest = Less Commercial Return.

So how do we get more teams to compete?
• Lower the cost significantly
• Use a platform type that is available and used by a wider group (owners, sailors, designers, builders, etc.)

While the technology and cool factor of the AC72 foiling cats was impressive, it didn’t deliver a significant boost in the audience numbers to justify 1/3 of the teams competing in the last event. And for this current cycle, it once again is showing less interest in teams competing in AC50s.

If the goal is to create a commercially sustainable event, the math points to monohulls. If the America’s Cup announced that the event was to be held in TP52s tomorrow, you’d have ten challenges in a heartbeat!

The current plan is too full of contradictory elements. The boat type is a hindrance to attracting challengers, yet its coolness has convinced organizers that it will attract viewers. And organizers only want four quality challengers to provide close competition, yet this limits the audience pool from which to attract viewers.

The sweeping changes so as to sell a ‘sexy’ event appear doomed. The market reality is that the America’s Cup is a tier 2/3 niche sport at best. Our current audience is small but highly wealthy, exclusive, passionate and global. We must speak to our core fan first (the “Flintstones”) before trying to attract new fans.

If the organizers become more humble in their approach, and build the ‘product’ reputation by delivering consistency, there is a chance of doing more good than harm. Currently, I worry that the later is being done.

Editor’s note: While 2021 had a monohull, the foiling AC75 retained all the hurdles that MacLeod identified seven years ago. What is it they say about doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results?

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