Friday saw the much anticipated first race of the 33rd Amercia’s Cup. The race was postponed from the planned 10am start to 12am, then we waited while the race committee tried to set a course that was fair over a 20 nautical mile distance. The resulting delay highlighted some of the problems that sailing has as a spectator sport.
There are many kinds of sailing fans, and there are even more kinds of America’s Cup fans. The three broad groups are; hard core sailing fanatics, sailing fans and the general public who are tuning in because 1) it’s on Eurosport, 2) their team is competing or 3) someone they know is a sailing fan and has convinced them to watch.
The postponements on Friday, coming off the back of two days of cancelled races tested even the hard-core fans. Trying to set a fair course over a 20 mile area in winter in Valencia has proved to be trying for all concerned.
Eventually, the race started with something for everyone. The question about whether or not there would be a match race pre-start with 90 foot multihulls was answered with BMW ORACLE helsman James Spithill inflicting a penalty on Alinghi but then stalling BMW ORACLE, giving Alinghi the chance to cross the start line first.
The race itself was, well pretty dull. The boats are without doubt beautiful and spectacular, but coverage was of the boats. So fast and so large are the platforms, that getting any footage of faces is almost impossible. With the legal fights of the last few months, it was far too much to expect that the teams allow any on-board cameras. The technology exists, but in the end, it doesn’t make the boat go faster, so not required.
Nevertheless, the official commentary from P.J. Montgomery, Cam Lewis and Andy Green was authoritative and entertaining. Lewis in particular spoke from a position of experience and knowledge.
In the end, the BMW ORACLE wing provided too much of an advantage and with an American win thoughts started moving to ‘what happens next?’ For anyone outside the two competing teams, the question has always been, what happens next? Whatever your feelings about either of the teams, the narrative may be served best by the challenger winning.
No matter what the shape of the 34th America’s Cup, from a branding and media point of view, the best result would probably be the return of the cup to the United States. The pomp and ceremony that would accompany the win – the breast-beating about world’s best technology, combined with a sudden new-found nationalistic fervour may give the America’s Cup more of a boost than if Alinghi retain the trophy.
Suddenly, a sport that no-one cared about will be thrust back into the limelight and a new era of the America’s Cup will be born. Like Michael Schumacher’s 5th or 6th World Championship, the story of Alinghi defending the cup will not provide the same lift or momentum.
Even if Alinghi were to come from behind today, take the series to a third race and win, there is still a court case pending to disqualify them based on a claim about where their sails were made.
So as we wait again for the 2nd race, the chat changes to who will be the next Challenger of Record and where will the cup be held. Why the Cup wouldn’t be held in San Francisco if BMW ORACLE won is a bit of a mystery. It used to be that the reason you competed for the cup was to bring it to your home town, but things have changed.
Whatever the venue, those looking at how to make the America’s Cup one of the world’s most valuable and prestigious sporting events need to address details that have a massive impact on the watchability of the sport. Whether it be those who have taken time to travel to the event or those waiting by their televisions or computer screens, the fans need to be given more say in America’s Cup 34.
America’s Cup coverage presented by the DARK BLUE BOOK
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