Trouble in the Cup World

Can a sport get too professional? Can the pursuit of money ruin the traditions of sport? Talking to The NZ Herald, Bruno Trouble cites this effect as one of the reasons Louis Vuitton pulled out of the Americas Cup – but now they are back.

Louis Vuitton are back in the “America’s Cup world”, as trouble calls it, and the best field of match-racing skippers seen since the Cup regatta in 2003 is set to take off in the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series in Auckland in the new year.

“We [Vuitton] left the America’s Cup because of the relationship with ACM – they were too commercial, too interested in money and the budget for 2007 was 10 times what it had been for the regatta here in New Zealand in 2003 [400m euro as opposed 40 million],” he says.

“We were not getting 10 times the return on investment. Valencia was a big local success and you will read stories about the millions of Spanish people who went there – but they went there to lick ice cream and look at the facilities. They were not really interested in the regatta.”

But it wasn’t just the money, the payback, with Trouble and Louis Vuitton. It never has been. Scratch the surface of the America’s Cup and you will readily find people to tell you how both have always had the heart and the tradition of the Cup in mind. Trouble was an Olympic sailor, an America’s Cup sailor, the man who conceived and then ran the Louis Vuitton Cup for challengers, and then a sponsor who became an integral part of the event.

Alinghi ramped up the costs and tried to widen the commercial scope of the America’s Cup, potentially losing its exclusivity and traditions. He likens the approach, with a Gallic sniff, to “soccer”.

So Louis Vuitton had “a lot of big arguments” with ACM but retained a good relationship with the challengers. When Emirates Team New Zealand chief Grant Dalton first raised the idea of the LVPS, Trouble wasn’t sure but later went back to ETNZ with a proposal.

“You know, I wanted to call this the Revival Cup,” says Trouble, that grin playing again. “Louis Vuitton decided not to go with that name and we chose Pacific Series because it is in the Pacific region and because the word `pacific’ also means to do with peace. That’s what we wanted to bring.”

He says Louis Vuitton is not expecting signiifcant return on investment for the LVPS either – but he says it is about bringing back a positive environment; an investment in the `psychology’ of America’s Cup-style racing. When the idea was mooted, the America’s Cup was marooned in the courts (it still is) and nothing was happening – no racing, no talks, nothing except a lot of syndicates with severely holed bank balances and sponsors gaining no visibility.

The LVPS was a way to get the “America’s Cup world” back on the water and Trouble positively chortles as he conjures up the image of Alinghi’s supremo Ernesto Bertarelli crewing on board a yacht belonging to Oracle, his arch-enemy, or – even better – former Team NZ skipper Russell Coutts on board a current Team NZ yacht.

“I can’t wait to see that photograph. Coutts hasn’t raced in five years but he won every single race between 1998 and 2003 and this will be his first time back at this level,” he enthuses.

Trouble has waved away suggestions the LVPS could be the forerunner of a regatta which competes directly with the America’s Cup.

Alinghi as defender would never allow it, he says. “They would prevent the competitors from taking part in our regatta because they want control and it’s all about money, money, money, money…”.

In Valencia, one of the most oft-heard rumours was that Rolex were interested in taking Vuitton’s place. It was a club Alinghi used to beat Vuitton with – a strange way to treat a friend. If Alinghi were not defenders, would Louis Vuitton be interested in returning to the Cup? “Oh yes,” says Trouble. “It is only the Swiss who think that Louis Vuitton and the America’s Cup have parted for good.”

Like everyone else, Trouble and Vuitton are waiting for the result of the Oracle-Alinghi court case. Depending on what happens, Trouble is talking about a repeat LVPS in Auckland in 2010 and/or a similar regatta in New York or Hong Kong, where interest and support has also been strong.

Either way, it’s good to have Vuitton back. And Trouble. And…what do you call it? Oh, yes _ racing.