Monday, October 11, 2010

Glass half full

There is a large segment of the sailing community that is frustrated right now with the America’s Cup. And I don’t blame them either. It was so good in 2007. The venue and design evolution had made the winner hard to predict. For sport to be entertainment, we don’t want to know the plot, we don’t want to know the ending. We want to meet the characters, and join them along for an unscripted ride. And we had that.

Now that the event has drastically changed, we are unsure of what lies ahead. To have close racing again in the first cycle of a new format seems optimistic. But I am an optimist. Here are my hopes:

- The 34th Match will be in San Francisco, which will provide stunning visuals and high wind excitement.
- The tides in the Bay, which dictate the favored side of the course, will keep the boats close to each other.
- That differences in wind speed will have dramatic effect on boat speed, which will make protecting a lead hard.
- That less maneuverability will make it hard to protect a lead.
- That huge upgrades in video production will make it all riveting to watch.

Of course, my biggest hope was that the 34th America’s Cup would have had a nationality clause for its sailing crew, but that didn’t happen. Speaking to past Cup winner and television commentator Gary Jobson on the new format: “It’s bold but I’m okay with the catamarans. What we want to see is even racing, but if they wanted to put audience interest through the roof, they would have made it a national event. When I did the 2008 Olympic coverage, viewership in the U.S. would increase by a multiple of 25 when an American was in a Medal Race. Passive viewers become passionate fans when they are cheering for their country.”

So with my glass half full outlook, I remain encouraged by how the event organizer, BMW Oracle Racing, has completely put themselves in a corner and now must deliver. Their legal delay was to rescue the Cup, but their plan now is so extreme that it would be an immense failure to fail. Team owner Larry Ellison has the resources to make this plan succeed. I hope it does.

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