good in the hood?

ac commentary

good in the hood?

Isn’t it fascinating what a furore the 34th Cup announcement has made? The mixture of hyperbole, rage and support is really quite compelling to read. One can only wonder what, if the much revered and let’s face it, elderly ‘auld Mug itself, would say about it, if it could. What stories it would have to tell, what conversations it must have heard down through the generations, the plots, the intrigue, the glory, and hopes and dreams of all those that have made its acquaintance over passing years, and the skippers, and Commodores of olden days have come and gone, having had their moment in the sun. What would the ‘Cup’ have to say now, standing there silently, serenely, a cosseted magnificence, quite possibly one of the most valuable trophies in existence (think of the billions spent trying to win it over the decades)…

But enough, what’s the point? The decisions are made, and whether you agree with them or not, it’s done – a new era dawns, a new chapter begins with the 34th. Some have supported the move to Cats with massive vigor and excitement, while others have gone so far as to call it the ‘Death of the AC’ in these revered forums. This is nothing but history repeating itself, as upon almost every change of class or new boat design, the same arguments have prevailed, and the ‘old school’ has lamented the passing of an age, largely because of tradition, or at worst, because they stood to make a buck or two out of it and faced an uncertain future. How many top monohull match racers may now feel disenfranchised, and how many young catamaran sailors must be ‘dancing on tables?’

There’s been a lot of talk about the way the announcements were made, with some expressing disbelief at the ‘low-key’ presentation in Valencia, when they were expecting a full ‘rah-rah’ announcement to launch the next iteration of the Cup, and how BMWOR ‘missed the boat’.

Well, actually, it made perfect sense to adopt this approach, as much of the news was already in the public domain, and this was the more formal signing of the Protocol, and ‘setting out the store’. In fact it was an extremely logical way to handle these announcements, with the emphasis not being put on some major stage show costing millions of dollars and involving the Black Eyed Peas or the Jonas Brothers, or even the new heartthrobs of the ‘I-Pad generation’ (as many are want to call them), Justin Bieber and Taylor Lautner. Why spend precious $$, (and surely that is one of the messages of the ‘New Cup’, that budgets will be reduced), on having say, Robert Pattinson and Miley Cyrus host the announcements (you do know who they are right, those who said the Facebook quote misfired – hey, it made a great soundbite, picked up around the world)?

No, staging this low-key, understated way, and letting the main players make the statements was exactly the right way, respecting the two Commodores there to make history with their pens. It was after all, a press conference, with invited members of the established yachting world there to pass on the news, not watch a bunch of kids dancing around on the stage and singing, letting doves loose, or with fireworks and streamers. It was not the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. One misinformed person, and clearly looking to be contentious for self PR, and nothing more, wrote in his blog that ‘Most soap powder product launches are more inspired and inspiring than this unrehearsed, amateur production. BMW-ORACLE have set themselves up as being an organization that understands the “Facebook generation”, but there is no way that brands like Zynga (Google it) would announce a new global product in such a lackluster manner.’ If ever there was someone who did not understand what they are writing about in the context of what is happening around them, say hello…

The real game, the real message, and the ‘real deal’ obviously starts after the venue is announced – that’s when you can expect to see the changes and the pace quicken, if they are to get even half way to what they have set out as their vision. What Russell Coutts and Larry Ellison have done is look to the history of the Cup, and learnt from the past. Let’s not forget, especially those marketing ‘guru’s’ who seem to know all the answers, that there’s more than one step involved in reinvigorating what should be a major sporting property, but one that has languished in the courts for years, and been so badly damaged that it was largely ignored by the sports community, and by corporate sponsors worldwide. This is a major ‘rebranding’ exercise, perhaps they will understand that word. This is a ‘re-launch’, and that does not happen with one press conference. Valencia’s announcement merely set out the vision for the years ahead, what the plans are, and anyone who thought otherwise is clearly wide of the mark.

But there was one surprise, politely left to the Challenger of Record to announce, the date – 2013. It’s a short time span compared to other Cup’s, and everyone now has their backs to the wall, so expect some pretty rapid moves – let’s think about that for a second. Not one, but TWO new boats to be built, the 72 and the 45, and not one new World Series, but TWO, with the Youth AC. That’s a major undertaking and commitment and they have really gone for a bold vision and bold strategy.

World Championships Series – that was an interesting choice of words n’est pas? We Americans can understand what a ‘World Series’ means, and so that is clearly well positioned to appeal to both the great ‘unwashed’ sailing public herein the US, and of course, the vital sponsorship life-blood.

Some would argue that this could easily have been the same strategy in monohulls. Probably so, but would it have had the same impact? Would we see large mono’s racing in SFO next year, or the year after as part of an AC World Series? Would they be packed into their box within a day and shipped off to the next venue? Can’t see that happening, but there’s a logic in what RC and LE have done here – taken the whole thing and analyzed it, shaken it, and turned thinking around – how do we make it more appealing, exciting, interesting, and ultimately, what will our legacy be?

Surely, ANYTHING that can help bring sailing more to the forefront of people’s minds, whatever form that may be, (and one of our barriers is the confusing variety of boats and race formats), and yes, even maybe to the younger generation too, has to be good for the sport, for the yachting business across the whole panoply that it is, and for the future?

Were these the right decisions? Literally, as with every other Cup pre-dating the 34th in this extraordinary ongoing 159-year record, (and isn’t that part of the remarkable attraction of this enduring story) only time will tell, so why not sit back, and embrace a bold and daring new age – or at least, ‘sit on the fence’, and let’s see what happens. By some miracle, you might even enjoy what’s coming next….whatever happens, the ‘Auld Mug’ sitting at the center of it all will certainly have yet another tale to add to its long and illustrious history.