Coutts worried about prospect of Kiwi win
Emirates Team New Zealand are looking the team most likely to loosen Oracle Team USA's grip on the America's Cup, but there are fears that victory for New Zealand would throw plans for the event's future into disarray.
New Zealand looked close to unstoppable yesterday, as they beat Softbank Team Japan and Groupama Team France in the Louis Vuitton America's Cup Qualifiers, but there is a worry that if they win the Cup, much of the work that has been done to build America's Cup sailing will go to waste.
Traditionally, the winner of the Cup decides the rules for the next renewal, as well as choosing the location. Five of the six teams in Bermuda, including Land Rover BAR, have signed a framework agreement for the future, which would mean the next race taking place in 2019 with an expanded America's Cup World Series, featuring races around the globe.
New Zealand are the only team not to sign and Sir Russell Coutts, the chief executive of the America's Cup Event Authority, admits that he does not know what their plans are. The uncertainty has delayed plans to restart the World Series in September, while teams are unable to plan for their own future. “From Day 1 they have been invited to be part of the process, but have chosen not to,” said Coutts, who was skipper when New Zealand won the Cup in 1995 and 2000, before switching to Alinghi, who won the Cup from New Zealand in 2003. “I've got to think that whoever wins, they would want to put on the best event they could.
“It is all very good to say we'll tell everyone what's going on after we see who wins. That is what has been done in the past. It's a much better solution to pre-agree a lot of these things prior to someone winning because you get a much more balanced view from all competitors.
“It's not just the teams that have to plan, you need key media partnerships in place for broadcast, you need your key sponsorships in place. You need the venues, you need to set that schedule way in advance. Whoever wins would benefit more from an existing path.”
The teams that signed up to the framework agreement hope to see the event turn into a circuit along the lines of Formula One, leading to an America's Cup every two years. The interest in sailing has increased globally in recent years and some fear a return to the stop-start nature of the event in the past. Coutts believes the Cup needs a successful World Series to make it work.
“An event in Auckland alone wouldn't work these days, both commercially for the teams and commercially for the sponsors,” Coutts said. “It is hard to promote just a one-off event. The Louis Vuitton America's Cup World Series created a tremendous amount of value for all of the stakeholders, teams, sponsors, venues and media partners. That was great. We more than doubled our viewership compared to the previous edition of the America's Cup. We are on track to vastly increase our viewership to the end of these finals.
“Most people are saying that this is beginning to work, but I think if they [New Zealand] did win, regardless of what they may have said in the past, they will want to put on the best event that they can. You can't have an event without good teams and you can't have an event without good broadcast partners, or without sponsors. The framework moves that forward a lot. If you talk to Louis Vuitton or BMW or some of the others that are involved, they all want to continue. They like the product; they all want to know what the future plans are.”
Yesterday was a day off for Land Rover BAR, but they face Oracle and Softbank Team Japan today, the final day of racing in the round-robin qualifiers before taking their place in the Challenger Play-offs that begin tomorrow.