America’s What?

It’s finally over.

The America’s Cup, Brought To You By Larry Ellison has reached the end of its first season.

Much of the world is fascinated by Oracle Team USA winning eight straight races to defeat Emirates Team New Zealand 9-8. As a pure sport feat, it’s hugely impressive, up there with Boston’s 2004 comeback to beat the Yankees and go to the World Series. But.

I just can’t get past the non-racing aspects of the whole thing.

The America’s Cup was supposed to have a field of zillions of boats, bring untold tourist wealth to San Francisco, put a chicken in every pot, and generally induce good vibes. Instead, what we got was a field of three competitors, two-thirds of the estimated revenue, legal challenges, cheating, a fatal accident, and no chickens. OK, I exaggerate slightly: potted chicken was never part of the official hype. But you get my drift.

Then there’s the convenience of the finish. The prolonged schedule and need for a winner-take-all race for the first time in 30 years resulted in a lot of hype, restoring some of the international interest that had been lost. How nice for Ellison that it not only drew attention to yachting, but also to his Oracle OpenWorld convention onshore. It brought back memories of the New York Yankees World Series appearance in 2001, just when New York needed a boost after 9/11 and the New Orleans Saints historic best season in their post-Katrina return to the Superdome.

And then there’s the whole question of the boats. The America’s Cup started with boats that could be used for other things than racing. Even though designs quickly evolved to optimize the boats for racing, they could still be used for other purposes — remember, this is “yacht” racing. The terms of “the Deed” that established the basic rules under which the America’s Cup is held require that the race be held in a “sea or arm of the sea”. The new “AC72” class of boats introduced this year is so sensitive to wind speed that it seems unlikely that they could even be sailed outside of semi-protected waters. Who would be interested in a “yacht” that can’t be sailed from one city to another?

So now Larry Ellison gets to be the biggest influence on the next America’s Cup. The same Larry Ellison who said yesterday that “This regatta has changed sailing forever. More people watched the first race of this America’s Cup than all of the America’s Cups in history, so I think it’s a success.” “Success” is drawing spectators, not the “friendly competition among nations” envisioned by the founders.

Stay tuned for season two. Expect more spectacle, more speed, and more “extreme” racing. Gotta top this year, right?