By April Thygeson
Larry Ellison’s Oracle Racing Team won the America’s Cup in Valencia in 2010. Although the challengers were undoubtedly disappointed to not bring home the cup themselves, in the long run they and their sport may end up benefitting dramatically from the Oracle win. Spurred by his victory, Larry Ellison has invested $300 million in the next America’s Cup.
This America’s Cup will be different from anything the sailing world has seen before. First, the boats will feature wingsails instead of fabric mainsails, which will allow the catamarans to accelerate from zero to 20 knots in just a few seconds. The speeds with which the carbon-fiber catamarans will whip around the race course will ensure a high level of crowd-pleasing drama.
Secondly, the new America’s Cup will be preceded by a World Series. For the next two years the contenders will compete in identical 45-foot catamarans built to Oracle Racing specifications. The aim is to give the teams plenty of time to practice in the new boats while also ramping up spectator interest in a sport that has a history of boring non-sailors.
To promote the events, Larry Ellison has established the America’s Cup Event Authority and placed Craig Thompson, a veteran sports-marketing executive, at the helm. Thompson once helped to assemble the largest soccer league in Europe and is now charged with the task of revolutionizing the spectator experience in sailing and promoting thereby promoting its popularity. Ellison has given him three years and $300 million to do so. The money is thought to be recouped through sponsorships and TV licensing fees, among other revenue.
Increasing the television coverage and building the television audience is an essential component in Thompson’s strategy. High-definition cameras will be tracking the boats at each event, while cutting-edge equipment will monitor the boats and pinpoint their exact location to within two centimeters. New on-screen graphics will help explain to viewers which boat is ahead, which can be a difficult question to answer in sailing. It requires calculating detailed information about the wind and each boat’s location.
In just four months, the America’s Cup will be broadcast on national television in the U.S. for the first time in twenty years. The final day of the World Series in Newport will be live on NBC, coast to coast, on July 1st. Stay tuned.