BMW ORACLE to Test for the America’s Cup X-Factor in Valencia. 1

The Defender of the America’s Cup BMW ORACLE will test both monohull and multihull boats using a series of TV trials over four days in Valencia. The aim is to develop methods for making the racing more enthralling for fans, more challenging for crews and better portrayed on television screens around the world. It’s an interesting process, but focussing on the hardware might not find the solution – assuming we know what the problem is.

The trials, July 22-25, will help confirm certain parameters of the new yacht, including reduced crew numbers to place a premium on boat-handling. Not only will the format of racing and type of boat come under scrutiny, but also television production.

The America’s Cup Media Evaluation Team has solicited opinions from a wide array of broadcasters, digital media and technology companies in Europe and the U.S. on how to make the racing more dramatic on-line, on-screen and on TV. Accepted standards of Cup racing are being challenged in the trials and no thought will be ignored in the quest to create the most compelling television production and delivering it to the widest-ever audience.

It’s an interesting process. Many sports have adapted their original format in order to attract a different audience. Twenty-Twenty cricket is the complete opposite of a 5 day Test match and Rugby 7’s opens up the game and makes it quicker, but neither of these formats have replaced the original version at the top level. The Ashes is still a series of 5 Day tests and the Rugby World Cup uses the full complement of players.

This week, the 150 year old Open Championship is being broadcast on the BBC in the UK. Only the most die hard fans care what clubs or balls are being used. The sport is popular because of the personalities – the stars are the players. Personally, I don’t find golf the most interesting televisual experience, but organisers haven’t felt the need to play with the format too much. The Open has a facebook page with over 12,0oo fans and hundreds of men and women are tweeting about the event.  The Open doesn’t see the need to make the game of golf any more interesting or ‘extreme’.

Nevertheless, BMW ORACLE are going to test the waters – literally, to see how the America’s Cup might be able to be made ‘better’. Russell Coutts says:

“We are testing many different concepts. Would making the first leg downwind instead of upwind be better? Can you have exciting boat-on-boat action with multihulls? Are there alternative race course formats which might provide more overtaking opportunities?” “Only by reviewing the accepted wisdom can we decide if there are smarter ways to challenge crews and excite fans.”

The trials will be conducted with two pairs of X40 catamarans and RC44 sloops. 3D and HD cameras will be experimented with to see if the onboard action is more dramatically portrayed, and the race format testing will include downwind and reaching starts.

Guest helmsmen such as Roman Hagara of Austria and Murray Jones of New Zealand will lead the crews aboard the X40s. James Spithill will be at the helm of one of the two RC44 yachts. They will race short-handed, eight-person crews to see if that adds a level of drama to boat handling that would be compelling for television.

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  • BMW getting involved is interesting. They must have gotten good tie-in with the win.