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America's Cup unlikely to return to Bermuda

The 35th America's Cup (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Bermuda looks unlikely to be selected as the host of the 36th America's Cup.

Despite the belief this is what Larry Ellison, the Oracle Team USA owner, meant when he told crowds “we'll be back” at the opening ceremony in May, the reality is understood to be different.

Mr Ellison's comments caused a stir behind closed doors, according to sources close to the situation, not least because they came as a surprise to many, and elements within his own Oracle team and the America's Cup Event Authority are said to be cooling to the idea of returning.

Instead, Bermuda is expected to be offered a stop on an expanded Louis Vuitton America's Cup World Series circuit as the teams eye a future of fast and furious racing, packaged for television in a manner similar to Formula One.

Tellingly, Mr Ellison made no mention of the Cup itself when he addressed the Bermuda crowds in the America's Cup Village during the opening ceremony on May 27.

“If we [Oracle Team USA] sail fast enough, we are definitely going to come back,” he said at the time.

The feeling among many is that the omission provides enough wiggle room for Bermuda to be awarded nothing more than a stop on a new circuit.

The new framework agreement signed by five of the six teams in January set the platform for this evolution, and talks have already taken place on what the 36th and 37th editions of the Cup, which are scheduled to take place in 2019 and 2021, may look like.

This includes a World Series with as many as 12 international regattas, and an expanded field of eight to ten teams.

There is a strong possibility that one of those new teams will have a Spanish connection after Sir Russell Coutts, the ACEA chief executive, raised the issue with Juan Carlos I, the former King of Spain, during his visit to Bermuda last week.

As well as watching the racing, Juan Carlos was given a tour of several team bases, where he chatted to sailors and designers about the new America's Cup Class yachts.

The inclusion of Spain, plus the expected return of an Italian team, could potentially add two more European stops to the next World Series, which is being slated to begin as early as October.

The ACEA declined to comment on the possibility of Bermuda missing out on hosting the Cup the next time around, pointing out that the eventual winner this month would be the ones making that decision. And all the talk of a bright new future could be scuppered if Emirates Team New Zealand, the only team not to sign up to the new framework agreement, walk away with the “Auld Mug”.

An ACEA spokesman said: “Bermuda is a truly wonderful home for the 35th America's Cup. The future of the America's Cup is exciting, with the majority of teams agreeing to a set of rules that will continue to build upon the momentum generated by the entire 35th America's Cup campaign, including the Louis Vuitton America's Cup World Series events that were staged around the world in the two years leading into the current events in Bermuda.

“However, under the new rules proposed, the choice of venue for the next America's Cup Match will still lie with the defender, as per the Deed of Gift. Until the defender of the 36th America's Cup is identified, by winning the 35th America's Cup presented by Louis Vuitton, all discussions about the choice of venue are speculation and, therefore, not something the ACEA can comment on.”

With the racing in Bermuda providing plenty of excitement for television and attracting a new breed of fan, commercial considerations have come to the fore as never before; especially when the likes of Land Rover BAR have budgeted some $100 million on this Cup alone.

The relationship with Formula One has led to Artemis Racing linking up with Martini Racing and, by extension, the knowledge and experience of F1 team Williams; while BAR brought in Martin Whitmarsh, the former McLaren principal, as chief executive.

Whitmarsh told The Daily Telegraph last month that he saw the America's Cup as a “fascinating business model”, which mirrored the rise of Formula One.

“We have something now which is dramatically exciting on television,” he said. “The real essence, the real driving force behind F1 was television.”

Whitmarsh also pointed to the creation of BAR's state-of-the-art facility in Portsmouth as evidence of the long-term planning that was taking place with regards to the America's Cup, much like McLaren's base was for the F1 team.

“We're not building for one campaign,” he told the Telegraph.

“Traditionally, the America's Cup has been billionaire-based and one campaign at a time. We're doing something different.

“The MTC [McLaren Technology Centre] drew people to it because it said: 'This is a business that is here for the long haul, this is a palace of engineering.'

“What you have [at the Land Rover BAR base] is a sort of MTC on the sea.”