During the last America’s Cup cycle, BMW ORACLE’s catch-phrase was ‘Mutual Consent’. This time round, CEO Russell Coutts has been promoting a ‘New Deal’ process that is supposed to be the most open and fair ever. With such a frank discussion between the Defender and prospective teams, the format should be one where challengers are lining up to be part of the new, exciting trophy platform, but early reaction has been the opposite.
Sir Keith Mills, the owner of TEAMORIGIN, has been one of the most vocal opponents of the ‘New Deal’ process. He’s made no secrets of the fact that he believes a multihull boat rules gives BMW ORACLE an unfair advantage and he has also been critical of the Challenger of Record for not representing the views of the challengers.
On Friday, TEAMORIGIN formally announced that they would not be taking part in the next edition of the America’s Cup. The Italian team Azzurra also announced that it would not be taking part in the ‘New Deal’ format.
TEAMORIGIN’s reasons for not contesting the next edition of the Cup broadly fall into three categories; commercial viability, competitiveness and timing.
Many people have latched onto a figure of $100 Million as a budget for a team to be competitive in the next edition of the America’s Cup. This is despite BMW ORACLE statements that they have designed a platform that is budget concious. Sir Keith Mills told Yachting World:
“When you look at the commercial aspects, the costs are around 20 percent more than those of AC32 in Valencia, but the cycle is over three years and not four. The result is that you have to raise 20 percent more money in 25 percent less time. In effect you only have two years of commercial rights to sell.”
The second objection that TEAMORIGIN have is the multihull boat rule. The British team, like most America’s Cup syndicates, is built on traditional monohull match racing principles. The team have competed in the Audi Med Cup and World Match Racing Tour – building strengths that would have positioned themselves well for an America’s Cup that most people would recognise. While the team has also competed in the Extreme 40 Series, Mills believes that the AC72 gives BMW ORACLE a huge advantage over challenging teams. He says:
“I didn’t like the class rule, I think that it has some serious issues with it. For instance, I don’t know how you race something like that in 33 knots of wind. When we asked Oracle about that they really didn’t have an answer. I don’t know how you moor it up, or stick it on the dock and they don’t have answers for that either.
“So I had real concerns about the boat as well as the fact that there are very few sailors around the world that have sailed such boats and very few designers that have designed 40m wings. From our starting point the class has real viability question marks over it.
Finally, TEAMORIGIN have a structural problem with their personnel and the timing of the America’s Cup in 2013. The backbone of the team is made up of successful Olympians who have been forced to choose between gold medals and the silver cup. Many potential challengers were caught off-guard by the announcement of the race in 2013. Despite this being the most open and fair process ever, most teams were expecting the next America’s Cup to take place in 2014.
The America’s Cup has always been to the Defender’s advantage. Those who challenge for it, do so with a kind of naivety that bets national pride and glory against rational business thinking. The America’s Cup has never been a one-design competition. Like F1, the team with the most money usually wins. So despite the ‘New Deal’, the America’s Cup will continue to be the domain of those who are willing to pay any price to win.
There’s nothing wrong with that, but it flys in the face of some of the stated goals for this Cup cycle. If TEAMORIGIN believes that the numbers don’t stack up, then how will new countries, with currencies valued at less than the British Pound afford to compete? How will BMW ORACLE sell a television package that doesn’t boast the best sailors in the world? Who are the teams who were so enthusiastic about the new boat rule that BMW ORACLE decided to use it instead of a monohull?
America’s Cup teams are not national and are not franchises in the sense that basketball teams are. F1 may be the best comparison – some are run as businesses and some are the whim of rich blokes. Every so often, the rules are changed and every so often teams threaten to pull out of the competition. In 2010, F1 survived the loss of BMW and the America’s Cup will probably survive the loss of TEAMORIGIN, but just who will the ‘Facebook Generation’ be cheering for in 2013?