Yachting: Ellison planning big things for Cup, win or lose

By Paul Lewis

Heavyweight group's ideas include World Series to reignite interest

Larry Ellison.
Larry Ellison.

Oracle billionaire Larry Ellison and his big business cronies have a plan to launch an annual global America's Cup League next year, building up to an America's Cup "play-off" in 2017.

There's just one small thing - Oracle Team USA and Ellison may not have the America's Cup with which to launch this new league, similar in concept to the America's Cup World Series sailed in 45-foot AC45 catamarans over the past two years.

The US may be about to lose the America's Cup, but Ellison and big business still have plans for it. It was revealed yesterday that the 2013 America's Cup advisory committee - assembled by Ellison and containing heavy hitters in US sports, marketing, media and commerce - have plans to launch a World Series next year.

The principle is to establish 10-20 franchises around the world, each to race an AC45 or similar catamaran in various venues around the world. The franchises would be established not only in the US, Britain, Europe, Australia and New Zealand but also Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

Then, in 2017, the "challengers" would be racing off for the right to become the challenger in the America's Cup match.

This may seem a miracle of bad timing, given Oracle's decision to play its postponement card rather than compete in Race 6 and Team New Zealand's dominance in the Cup match so far. But the threat to New Zealand's control over the America's Cup (should Emirates Team NZ win it) comes from money and power. It is far from beyond the realms of possibility that Ellison could put pressure on New Zealand in its custodianship of the Cup. After all, as Ellison and San Francisco have found, it is not easy nor cheap to host the America's Cup and challengers (such as Team NZ) can be a handful.

Ellison's backing of the scheme was invoked by Harvey Schiller, vice-chairman of the 2013 America's Cup advisory board, at the Bloomberg Sports business Summit in New York.

Schiller allowed that the scheme depended on Oracle Team USA retaining the Cup but said, when asked what happened if New Zealand won: "I am afraid this is a matter of economics and funding. It remains to be seen but I think the sailing community may come together at some point.

"It may take a little longer but the fact is it's a weakness that we have only three challengers [at the 34th America's Cup in San Francisco]. Sailing used to be in Tier One of sport and we need to return to that. F1 on the water? Sure.

"We are going to launch this series, a World Series, probably in the 45s or something smaller [than the AC72s] for continuity - we can't keep turning up every four or five years and expect to keep people interested."

Schiller said he and Ellison were talking about 2014 and beyond: "We need more challengers and we need to create franchises; that is the nature of the game whether you are talking about sailing or horse racing - and there is nothing stronger than country against country."

It was too expensive to compete in the current Cup, over US$100 million ($123 million) or more but the franchise scheme would cut the costs, bring in more challengers and would ensure they would be racing for a money prize - "not just a trophy".

Before anyone passes this off as meaningless chatter, Schiller is a former chairman of Yankee Nets (owner of the New York Yankees and other large US sporting franchises) and a former head of Turner Sports.

His colleagues on the America's Cup advisory board include Jay Cross, a former US Olympic sailor and former president of the New York Jets; Geoffrey Mason, of ESPN and ABC sports fame, who has overseen broadcasts of about 20 Olympics, football World Cups and America's Cups; Peter Uebberoth, former head of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics (the first to be a commercial success), and Casey Wasserman, head of the sports and entertainment marketing giants Wasserman Media Group.

The difference is the concept of franchises - which would permit financial backers to put together a syndicate or be bankrolled by billionaires, multi-millionaires or governments - and the fact that the series would produce a winner who would become the challenger for the 2017 America's Cup.

- NZ Herald

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