Although no official announcement has been made yet in what regards the future of the world’s oldest sports trophy, Russell Coutts recently talked to the Yachting World magazine and outlined the preliminary plans he has been working on for the 35th edition of the America’s Cup.
The CEO of Oracle Team USA didn’t reveal anything in that interview that we hadn’t already mentioned in the recent past. In what regards the time frame for holding the next edition, it seems that Coutts is in favor of the summer of 2017, in San Francisco, if of course the negotiations with the city come to a fruitful conclusion. That doesn’t come much as a surprise, as the years 2015 and 2016 are deemed to be unsuitable. It would be too early for 2015 while 2016 is an Olympic year.
As far as the boat is concerned it appears Coutts wants to ditch the AC72′s and opt for a smaller 60-foot foiling catamaran with a crew of 7 of 8 and a number of one-design elements. Again, this is an aspect that has already been covered recently but Coutts makes it more official with this interview. Coutts argues that a smaller boat with less crew and less liberty for designers will bring costs down. Nevertheless, changing the boat once again will throw away the progress made during the last three years and will force the teams and the event to face the same potential problems and pitfalls they faced in the past. Everybody will have to go through the same steep learning curve, with huge differences between the yachts that would again result in unattractive races where one boat crosses the finish line five minutes ahead of the other. Not only that, right now there are at least a couple of AC72′s that could be readily available for any current or potential future team.
Coutts’ plan that seems to raise concerns among the potential challengers has to do with the racing format for the selection of the Challenger that will face Oracle Team in three years. Just like the previous edition, a worldwide circuit is envisioned but unlike last time it will count, and heavily, towards the final challenger selection. According to well-informed French sources, Coutts would like the preliminary circuit to serve as an initial cutoff from which just the top four will make it to the actual Red Bull Cup, or whatever the Challenger Selection Series (CSS) might be called, at the America’s Cup venue.
As a result, the challengers will be racing in modified, foiling AC45′s from 2015 until early 2016 and then the top four will have one year to design and build their actual, new, America’s Cup boat. In order to also make it cheaper for the organization, Coutts states in the Yachting World interview that he would like each challenger to hold a preliminary race in its home country and bear the entire organizational costs. If that plan fails to succeed then Coutts could present an alternative in which two “regional” championships are held. The first one would be in Europe where the potential challengers from Europe and the Middle East would compete for two CSS berths, while the second one could take place somewhere in Australasia and will see the Australasian challengers square off for the remaining two CSS spots. The costs of each “regional” championship could then be shared among the corresponding teams.
The idea that only four of the participating teams would advance to the CSS is ludicrous, at best. Even if the AC72′s turned out to be extremely complex and expensive, each challenger that took part in the previous Cup knew at the time of its inscription that if the necessary funding was in place early on, they had their spot in the Louis Vuitton Cup guaranteed, regardless of their result in the ACWS. Now, if Coutts’ plan goes ahead and there are more than four challengers, teams will know for sure that they will be in the America’s Cup venue just 18 months before the event takes place! Unless they are backed by a billionaire they will have absolutely no chance whatsoever in getting any sponsorship at all!
Can anyone imagine what big multinational group would ever fund Ben Ainslie or Franck Cammas for the 35th America’s Cup if they have no certainty as to whether the team will exist beyond 2016? Even if they are two of the world’s best and most accomplished sailors will any marketing manager sign a sponsorship deal with them with such an unknown hanging over them? Guess what chances a newcomer will have! None.
Despite his repeated claims to the contrary, it seems that once again Russell Coutts is trying to build as big an advantage for the Defender as possible… That’s what the America’s Cup is all about after all…