And can teams afford it? Here’s an alternative

How many more people would have turned up to see the America’s Cup World Series racing in Plymouth if the boats had been 72ft instead of the modest 45 footers? None, would be my guess.

What made Cascais intriguing and Plymouth spectacular was the close racing, the drama and the sophisticated presentation of a sport that usually takes place over the horizon. I’d bet that size never came into it for the 115,000 people that the city council claimed visited Plymouth’s Hoe.

Did those that watched the action online care about the size of the boats? Unlikely I’d say.

So now the dust has settled and the circus has been packed onto its ship bound for San Diego, the organisers have proof that the show both worked and delivered many of the features that were promised when the brave new vision for Cup racing was announced 13 months ago. Evidence that should help in their quest to nail down some more venues for the world series tour.

There is no question that the AC World Series so far has been an impressive achievement in such a short space of time. With eight teams and nine boats participating there is clearly plenty of enthusiasm to take part. Even if you take a hard nosed approach and separate the Defender from future Challengers there are still seven teams pushing hard up a vertical learning curve for an event that had no track record until just a couple of months ago. Everybody is learning on the hoof with a view to going all the way to 2013.

But the problem is cost. At the moment a small team can contemplate participating in the first three events of the new Cup world for around €600,000, roughly speaking. Peanuts, compared to a full blown AC campaign.

Cost estimates for the new 72ft Cup cat vary considerably. I’m told that roughly speaking the boat with rig, sails and foils will cost around €10 million. Then add electronics, people, insurance and shipping and it’s not unreasonable to see the tally double and reach €20 million. And that’s a minimum cost, well below what was originally mooted and most likely just enough to get a team to the start line but little more. A campaign cost of say €35 million could be a more realistic figure for a team that wants to go the distance, especially given that each team would still have to compete in the America’s Cup World Series according to the current Protocol.

And remember, this is for an event that starts and finishes in September 2013. If you do well you get to race for around 2 months. Bomb out and you may only have a month’s racing. That’s a lot of buck for your bang in anybody’s language, especially when compared to the costs for a 45.

Given the current line up of potential teams, at present there are probably only two challengers that look likely to be able to build a 72 for 2013. A couple more are working on funding that looks promising, but isn’t secure enough to draw anything more than a shrug of the shoulders from the top brass in these teams when you ask how confident they are of closing the deal.

We hear that there are a number of new teams waiting in the wings to take part in the AC World Series next year, some could be big enough to consider a 72 programme. But in such difficult financial times, raising any money, let alone the many millions that are required, could prove to be more challenging than winning the Cup itself.

I believe there’s a dilemma brewing for the organisers who have promised a big enough show for San Francisco in 2013 for the City Mayor Edwin M Lee to claim that,”8,000 new jobs are expected to be created by the America’s Cup in San Francisco along with $1billion in economic return.”

Do the organisers stick to their guns and hold out for the 72 and risk having few teams turn up, or do they park the 72ft idea and run with an open version of the more affordable 45 footer and hope they can attract a larger travelling circus?

Neither option has been expressed publically by anyone within the organisation, but surely the pressure is starting to mount as 2013 draws closer.

According to America’s Cup Event Authority CEO Richard Worth one of the goals for the new America’s Cup is to create a longer term game.

“It’s not about what happens in the next 2 years, it is about what happens in the next 10 or 15,” he said recently. “If an event or sports property is created that has a longevity that we know can be marketable, I think that’s another way of looking at what’s the surplus that we will share in.”

Plenty of teams would surely create more of a buzz and help create a ‘sports property’, particularly given the short space of time that is available to do so.

One solution therefore could be to create a development rule around the current 45 footers such that the existing boats could compete, but that those with the means could move the game on and allow the Cup to do what it has always done in the past and remain at the leading edge of performance boat design and technology.

If teams were able to go to their potential sponsors now with more modest budgets and a clear path through to the main event in 2013 it would surely be easier to secure funds. Perhaps more television companies would share their enthusiasm and sign up for TV rights.

Of course, technically the America’s Cup doesn’t need lots of teams in order to happen. The world’s ultimate match race only requires a challenger and defender to trigger the America’s Cup. But if the event’s future lies in drawing a large audience, as stated in the Protocol, (to encourage ‘world-wide growth and interest in the America’s Cup as a premier sporting event’), surely Plymouth proved that size doesn’t matter.

Just a thought.