the big push
Thursday’s well-hyped Rome press conference went off without a hitch, and while the substance was mostly fluff, the delivery was exactly the kind of thing we’ve been seeking for a long time, and if you haven’t seen it yet, it’s worth the view – if only for the hot intro reel. BMW/Oracle blogger Peter Rusch ran the live video stream, offering questions from the online viewing public while the assembled ‘real life’ media asked a pile of their own. Most of the speechifying from Coutts and Onorato rehashed what we’ve known for weeks or months:
- GGYC and CNR want a fast, exciting class (no multi or mono preference expressed)
- Spectator-friendliness for TV and online viewing is essential
- The entire process is to be open and collaborative
- The schedule still calls for a 2013 or 2014 cup with a couple of years of series racing in the new Class
- Independent management of the Cup will be implemented for the event
A bit of new and important info did emerge through the hoopla though. Coutts announced that BMW/Oracle Racing had retained both Bruce Nelson and Morelli & Melvin as ‘independents’ to put together design proposals for a new class – a bit strange, considering that M&M’s work on Ellison’s own trimaran puts their independence in question, and because VPLP wasn’t used despite their extensive involvement in Ellison’s victory. There will be a designer conference in Valencia some time in the next few weeks.
Another new bit is that the Defender has retained experts in media, television, event planning and event management to ensure that the 34th Cup brings this all-important event to a level of international visability never-before seen. In other words, they’re taking it seriously, and treating the next Cup like the billion-dollar sporting event it potentially could be instead of their own private urinal like our old buddy from the Alps. Perhaps most importantly, Coutts put out the schedule of important dates, which reads:
- August 31, 2010: 34th Protocol released
- September 30, 2010: Design rule released
- October 1, 2010: Challenge period opens
- December 31, 2010: NOR and SI published
- December 31, 2010: Venue confirmed
- January 31 2011: Challenge period closes
The Meat Of The Matter
We do our best to read between the lines here at SA, and to us, the real story of Thursday conference was in a few key points that Coutts seemed to keep coming back to. The points center around the fact that Ellison clearly wants to use the next Cup to bring sailboat racing to as wide an audience as possible, a truly laudable goal even if we don’t quite know his motivation yet. He’s a speed-loving iconoclast, and his goal is to break apart the perception that sailing is not a commercially viable spectator sport. This can only happen if the racing is exciting, fast, action-packed, and can be properly conveyed on the screen – all addressed by Coutts’ comments about fast, undermanned boats that can sail in 5 knots or 35. Remember that all yachting organizers are plagued by the same gremlin when it comes to getting TV coverage from top producers and their big, expensive camera crews; they simply cannot deal with the delays and dollars that wind postponements bring.
Ellison’s goal to bring about a new age in media presence on Cup boats dovetails nicely with his other goal, which isn’t a new one; Coutts’ emphasized about 6 times that commercial viability and sponsor return is to be the real legacy of AC 34. A permanent AC sailing series around the world is a big part of that push, as is TV, the web, and the fact that Coutts would rather see 10 highly competitive teams than 20 with a lot of sketchy entries.
From a presentation standpoint, as much as we admire both Cam Lewis and Coutts’ accomplishments, neither of them should be in front of a camera for so much time. Coutts either feigns dopeyness when he wants to avoid asking questions, or he’s got a bit of A.D.D. and can’t seem to remember what he was just asked. Jimmy Spithill may hate me for saying this, but if someone needs to speak for the team, Spittie’s the one – engaging, quick-thinking, and his attention doesn’t wander like Russel’s seems to. Lewis is another factor completely; presumably BMW/Oracle sent him down there because he’s independent, and because Tom Ehman tends to piss people off when he slaps their hands off the microphone – but did they know he’d stutter, stumble, and bumble his way through the thing? If they’re serious about appealing to a wide audience, BMW/Oracle should chase down racer Steven Colbert to run these shows or someone else that’ll nail their target audience. The public and press watching doesn’t care how qualified the MC is at these dog-and-pony shows so long as they have some sailing cred; they care that the action gets moved along smoothly and that questions are asked and answered.
And don’t worry if your question wasn’t asked and answered. La Maddalena is a small island, and no one can escape SA’s cameras next month!