Eventual Sense

In the UK the sports radio stations relentlessly fill with non-stop pro and counter opinions around the takeover of Newcastle Football Club by a consortium backed, in essence, by the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund. It’s a red hot debate, similar in tone to what we’re seeing in the America’s Cup with the only difference being that in the case of Newcastle it’s a done deal, there will be no going back. Sanctioned by the Premier League, money has passed hands, the keys have been handed over and the die is cast.

Downtown Jeddah

Protest now will matter not a jot – but for the beleaguered Newcastle fans who have been starved, in their perception, of funds to buy the best players in global football over the past decade or longer, they are finding every possible excuse to ratify and legitimise the move, so excited are they about the football that might be played at St James’s Park in a few years time. Sport versus morality. Tricky debate.

Meanwhile in the desert, Jeddah is but a month away from hosting its outlandish, money-no-object Formula 1 spectacle with a brand new, box-fresh, Carsten Tilke designed track and relaxed rules for visitors framed as merely a request to the teams and spectators to try and respect local culture and religious sensibilities. As a week-long event it will be spectacular and sit alongside the T20 cricket World Cup (yes cricket) also going on in Dubai at the moment. It’s all happening in the desert. All professional sporting roads seem to lead there. No questions asked.

And the Saudis, so we hear, would be delighted to host one leg of the America’s Cup Challenger series when the time comes but it will have to be short-order, in and out. And for that, a Sultan’s ransom awaits. A short-form regatta is the only way that the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron will quell the fervour and swell the coffers for its defending syndicate but it will have to be diluted with a series encompassing more acceptable venues.

The likelihood now, according to relentless emails from people that I don’t know but who know me and are supposedly in the know if you know what I mean, is that the Cup is going abroad but only temporarily. It’s going to be doing what the Kiwis describe as an ‘OE’ – Overseas Experience – and the Gulf states will be just one small, but high profile, factor in deciding who will face off against Nathan Outteridge’s Team New Zealand in Auckland in 2025. Well that’s what they’re saying at least.

It’s hard to know who to believe in a world of self interest but common sense is always a good marker so if we trace back to the only time that the then pre-Challenger of Record actually went on the record, just after the last Cup, to express a desire over what the Cup should look like, the clues are all there and the pathway intention was abundantly clear.

©COR36/ Studio Borlenghi

Jim Ratcliffe opined that the Cup needed to be professionalised along the lines of other global sports and was highly cogniscent and illuminating on the subject of the ‘quirky’ rules buried in the Deed of Gift. We’ve been this way before but in its current state and in the present climate, the Cup is on life-support. It’s time to shake things up a little. The Cup needs a reset and it’s hugely encouraging that we have visionaries in the decision-making spots.

Be under no illusion that Ratcliffe’s a silent player at the moment – I’d go as far to say that very little happens without his consent or consultation. He is danced around. Courted. The main players in the Cup are in his thrall and it’s his drum that is beating the tune. Not that they would admit it and certainly not what the carefully managed Ineos Sports Group media machine would say. But he holds more sway in the shadows than anyone else operating and that’s a good thing.

As the ink starts to dry on the furiously complex Hosting Agreements that have been drafted over the past month and signatures of lofty local and high-office government officials are secured, this isn’t apparently going to be a one-venue Cup. My estimation based off semi-credible offerings is that we are going multi-venue for up to two years (2023-2024) and that clear desire is forming to have the actual Match in Auckland. That would make sense to me. A lot of sense.

© Adam Warner for SailGP

For the protagonists of a full Cup and Challenger series in New Zealand it’s a half-way house, but should be perfectly acceptable. Frankly who really cares in New Zealand if the Challengers go and race anywhere in the world so long as the Match is in Kiwi waters? That’s the prize right?

The other venues, and there’s two signing or signed as a starter, could be meaningful pit-stops to decide the Challenger and the Defender can come and play if they choose. The scope to add more once the series format is unveiled would ensure a busy time for the organisers and sports agents behind the scenes but crucially they can kick the can down the road on announcing further venues. Once the detail is seen, everyone would want a part of this and a long-frame announcement of the final destinations suits everyone just fine.

A Global Challenger Series works – we know that with SailGP. Yes we can debate the merits and pitfalls of an AC grand prix in the desert and yes, it may well not sit comfortably with some – maybe the Americans might even consider boycotting the event – but with the money available in the harshest possible economic environment for sponsorship, eventual sense may have to be acknowledged. A month in Jeddah tuning up doesn’t seem quite as bad as sending the whole shooting match there for two or three years and the little darlings won’t have to suffer going to the Green Peaks International School whilst Mummy and Daddy earn the big bucks out in the Red Sea south of the Coral Great.

A summer in and around Europe, a trip to the States and a foray into the desert before perhaps, and whisper it quietly, a sojourn to the Far East to appease a rumoured nascent ’emerging nation’ team might just about be palatable to our sport that is, quite rightly, a tinder box on rights abuses, greenwashing and state sponsored terrorism. Yachting is the outlier in global professional sports on this issue and maybe we’re all comfortable with that – after all, there’s a lot of very bright minds in our sport. But it’s looking inevitable.

©Bob Martin for SailGP

Whatever is decided and announced will cause debate and conjecture but look at this from an event perspective, it simply has to travel. It has to go multi-venue and it has to engage with a global audience. It can’t be a quirky little money-pit of massive, disgusting, short burst excess any longer – that just won’t do. The Cup has to move onwards and upwards and get on the front-foot with promoting a format that gets away from this stop-start of orgasmic heights followed by Siberian hibernation. It’s plain and simply daft as it is today.

And as the AC machine goes global, it has to deliver in a similar vein to Formula 1 with modern communications across all platforms promoting intrigue, continuity, sporting excellence, resonance, disbelief and rivalry. It must matter again. SailGP does it half-well and is saved by the spectacle. The AC has to do it harder and better if it’s going to stay at the apex of the sport.

We’re going into a new era and it’s going to be electric to see how the America’s Cup brand changes and adapts to the modern world.

Change is inevitable. Let’s just get on with it.

11 thoughts on “Eventual Sense

  1. If we’ve concerned about such serious issues, then surely that’s a good thing, even if it makes us “an outlier”. (And while I don’t know very much about other sports, I doubt we really are— I know I have definitely seen protests about similar social and environmental issues from fans of other sports.)


    1. The list of professional sports operating events in the Gulf is extensive. Sailing is definitely an outlier. I’m not saying that’s wrong but just highlighting that we are an outlier.


  2. Foiling forties with three people on board is already being done by Sail GP. Ten teams ten events each year makes the AC look not so important in the scheme of things. Does not sound like a winner to me.


    1. With respect, i disagree. I think it must go global and bring the racing to a larger audience at multiple venues. The current format is woefully unsustainable.


      1. Magnus,
        There is absolutely ZERO Chance that Teams would agree to have the CSS on different Venues and the Cup Match in Auckland. ZERO Chance my friend. It would be a massive Advantage for the Defender as they only have to optimize their new Boat for Auckland while the Challengers would have to optimize it for 3 or 4 different Venues. Not going to happen.

        The Challenger Selection Series should be held in the same Venue as the Cup Match itself – Period. That’s how it has always being done.

        I could see some World Series Events in different Venues. That would be making sense.


  3. Indeed the model used by Sail GP clearly shows a path to success. But to other than sailing enthusiasts, is there room for both platforms in an attention deficit world?
    The cup must come up with something so different, so unique, that it isn’t belittled as the other flying sailboat race.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It does rather run the risk of being confused: “is this the catamaran grand prix or the ones that look like gekkos on hot rocks one?”

      I think this is where the communications come in and the events must mean something. Every regatta must feed into a meaningful league over two years, run every month somewhere in the world with the top two boats fighting out for the right to challenge for the Cup in a final at the end. Could work…


  4. It’s not so long ago that a group of $Bil’s decided that they would form a super league to enrich themselves at the expense of the clubs they owned, it was pretty much ‘done and dusted’ until the clubs fans and the media decided otherwise.
    I don’t think F1’s decision to suck on the Saudi teat is going to be the love fest you envisage, there’s going to be some serious conversations on the morality of dealing with someone like mbs…I can’t imagine there are too many people working in F1 that are looking forward to respecting local culture and religious sensibilities when it involves public executions of mbs enemies and chopping off the hands of orange thieves…no matter how much money the shareholders of Liberty Media make.

    It’s not so long ago you thought that the AC being in Jedda for a couple years for a Sultans ransom was a great idea but now just going for a couple of weeks for a sultans ransom is even better..you won’t have to hold your nose for so long!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Magnus

    *”but look at this from an event perspective, it simply has to travel”*

    With all due respect, you seem to overlook the fact that if we would not have had this ‘disrupter’ Covid, the last AC would have travelled…so ‘nothing to see here’. You don’t have to read the tea-leaves to predict (or demand….) that THE Cup will travel….it might even have a stop-over at your end of the woods.

    Cheers Daniel/ NZ

    Liked by 1 person

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