"CHALLENGE, LARRY; DROP THE COURT CASE & CHALLENGE."
Marcus Hutchinson is in a good position to compare the organisation of one America's Cup with others, because he has been involved in six. For the first five, he was part of the organisation; last time round he was head of media affairs for ACM, this time he has switched roles and is in charge of TeamOrigin's media affairs.
BYM News asked Marcus to answer questions designed to clear up the criticism and misgivings that some people still have about the format and organisation of the 33rd America's Cup, judging from posts on forums and opinions on blogs.
BYM News: A fair number of people are saying “This is not the America’s Cup as we know it.”.
Marcus Hutchinson: You know, where it comes to the America's Cup we've just done, two years ago people were up in arms, saying "It won't be like Auckland that was fantastic!" and, before that, when we got to Auckland, people said "Oh, this won't be like the San Diego experience" and, in San Diego, people were saying "Perth was fantastic, how could anything compare to that." and there were still people talking about the good old Newport days that were fantastic to them! I remember the America's Cup Jubilee, which was the first time I got to know Olin Stevens and we were talking about his America's Cup experiences in the late 1930s, when he was sailing, and he was starry eyed about that period in America's Cup eras.
Anything that survives, as long as the America's Cup has, must have gone through changes and there are always people who are nostalgic for the past. There's a lot of money in nostalgia, but it is what it is and, for something to survive it has to evolve. I'm not trying to defend anything; I'm just trying to put my personal perspective on how it is.
The commercialisation is another thing many are against and they believe the challengers are giving up a lot, in order to get back something in terms of a share in profits.
If you look at anything in isolation, it's very easy to say 'Yes, that's not good, because of this, or that', but you have to look at the big picture. I'd like to take it a step back and say 'We are all aware the America's Cup has existed for 156 years, or whatever, through 32 cycles and it has only been won four times and only since 1983, by a challenger. It's only moved from the old fashioned New York environment since that time and, every time it's moved to a new venue, there have been two things that have affected the evolution of the America's Cup; one is, obviously, the geography of where it's happening and I don't just mean that it's a bay, as opposed to a beach, or how much the sun shines, or the wind makes it rough. It's also about the city, the time zone it's in, the culture of the venue, whether it's in easy flying distance for a huge number of people, whether it can be televised at a reasonable time of day, for a big audience, whether corporate hospitality is something you can easily do; all sorts of things like that affect it.
The other important factor is the era. We are now at the beginning of the 21st century and no-one can deny that things are changing at an incredibly quick pace. As we were discussing earlier, regarding your initiative with BYM News and the way on-line publishing is evolving, things are changing very fast and, when the America's Cup came to Europe there was a double opportunity; firstly in the fact that it was a new audience, but also in the fact that the Defender wasn't based on the sea, which allowed - for the first time ever - the host city bid situation to happen. The importance of that was that it allowed the America's Cup to ascertain its real marketing value and there were several cities interested and four of those signed the host city agreement, before one of them - Valencia - was chosen. All those cities were prepared to put in a significant amount of money, an equivalent level of investment in the project, and they would, probably, all have worked, to a greater, or lesser, extent.
Now Valencia was a success and I think most people would agree that the 32nd America's Cup opened people's eyes to what it is possible to achieve, for the sport of sailing, with the right approach. Now, moving into the 33rd America's Cup, the lessons that were learned in the 32nd, from an organisational point of view, will mean improvements. I no longer work for ACM, but I've still been involved with them - as are people from the other challengers - in writing those rules we presented at the press conference. I think this is something that some members of the press have not got clear and it's important that it is clear, because a lot of mistakes were made last time and a lot of the mistakes and oversights will be adapted for the 33rd America's Cup.
Now, leaving aside the current situation between GGYC and SNG, I think the biggest error ACM made this time was in not communicating adequately and explaining, in the protocol, what they really had in mind, rather than just an "here it is", which upset a lot of people. When you drill down into it and I won't deny that I think the pressure of the court case may have allowed the challengers to extract a faster response, from ACM, in this consultative period, the intentions are somewhat different from the first words. So, commercially, it's about building value. A lot of teams did go away from the 32nd Cup with a significant sum of money and they were very pleased about that and, if ACM had left the Cup just the same for the 33rd, they'd have been saying 'Heh, you should have been able to do better.'
Now, I know there have been comparisons with Formula One and there's a good series of programs on TV now, called 'Formula for success', which is a full analysis of how the Formula One business grew, but let's not beat about the bush; the America's Cup doesn't have the motor industry behind it, but there are a lot of parallels in that it's a mechanised sport, with some flamboyant individuals involved and some large corporations and a lot of other things, like the glamour lifestyle, the globalisation and the high risk technology. The big difference is that Formula One has been as professional as this for the last 15, maybe 20 years and let's not forget that they do 16, or maybe 18 Grand Prix per year, so they've got pretty good at what they do by now. I'm no expert in Formula One, but I bet that, if you compared the Barcelona GP last year and this year, there would be no major differences. The America's Cup has had one opportunity to produce a professional contest and I think everyone would agree that the 32nd Cup was a pretty good first contest and I'm sure the 33rd will be a very good second effort and the 34th, if it's still in Europe, will be an even better third effort, but nobody can expect changes overnight.
As to those who say the Defender has too much say, well that's how it is, that's how it's always been. The America's Cup isn't compulsory, if you don't like it you don't have to be part of it. This time around, Luna Rossa didn't like the protocol - maybe there were other reasons involved - but, whatever, they said 'We're going to sit this one out.', but there were other teams that said 'We're not that enamoured, but we're going to enter and do it and try to influence things from the inside.' That was TeamOrigin's point of view and Team New Zealand's point of view and so on; it's much better to be on the inside, looking out, than on the outside, looking in. For sure, if any major yacht club had signed that protocol, GGYC would not have had a way through the door to attack the protocol; that said, maybe a major yacht club wouldn't have signed off that protocol, but we will never know the answer to that.
What is certain is that the court case isn't doing any good for anyone, because everyone involved in the 33rd event - ACM, Alinghi, the challengers - has suffered and the America's Cup image has suffered. The Cup has had its ups and downs before, but it has continued to prosper and I think GGYC needs to realise that, there has been extensive consultation with the challengers; the changes that have been, to the protocol, are as good as it's going to get and the revised protocol is reasonable. When you consider the challengers that are on the inside and look at the personalities that are there; I'm not talking about the owners of the teams, but the movers and shakers within the yacht racing scene that are involved - people like Mike Sanderson, Grant Dalton, Jochen Schuman, Paul Cayard - those people aren't idiots. Sure they're making a living out of yacht racing, but what GGYC is, effectively, saying to them is 'You aren't credible.'
So is everybody now happy with the way things have gone?
Well, I can't speak for all the challengers, but I can tell you that TeamOrigin is very happy with the consultative process. The Competitors' Commission, which has replaced the Challengers' Commission, involves the Event Organisers, the Defender and the Challengers, at the same time, and it's infinitely more efficient at getting voices heard and modifications made. All the protocol changes, plus the design rule you've read, the competition rule you've read and the event rule that you will read soon have been produced in consultation with everyone involved in the 33rd Cup and that means they've been produced on a fully democratic basis. The Challenger of Record has told the other challengers that it wants to share its rights to negotiate with the other challengers and it IS sharing those rights, so the Challenger of Record has as many differences of opinion with the Defender as any of the other challengers.
Are you saying that you think it is better that all the challengers negotiate, rather than having the Challenger of Record negotiate for them?
Yes, without question, yes.
Did you get the impression, in the Competitors' Commission meetings, that was how everybody felt?
Oh yes! I think if you ask any of the teams if they like the current structure, they would agree, wholeheartedly. It's a lot more efficient than last time and we're only at the beginning of this cycle.
Yet there are still posts on forums and opinions in blogs saying that the challengers have given away all their rights, in agreeing to this 33rd protocol?
You could argue that the previous Challenger of Record gave away 95% of challengers' rights for the 32nd America's Cup, by allowing ACM to be created; when, for the 31st America's Cup, there were two separate entities. So I don't agree with any statement that says the challengers for AC 33 have given away their rights.
A lot of people criticised GGYC, when it signed off on the protocol for the 32nd Cup, because the Challenger Commission was, effectively, an emasculated body. It had no power, no veto and that's why there was a lot of unhappiness, but it had to happen, because - once you brought a European context into the America's Cup - you had to have one commercial organisation running it and that was ACM. I think everyone agreed that it worked; the teams benefited, a whole new group of people got enthusiastic, there were 6 million people who came to have a look at it. On top of that, the concept of corporate hospitality taking place, on a large scale, at a yacht race, was a first. That had never happened before and now every event is trying to mimic that, so that's a benefit for all event organisers that would never have happened if ACM had never existed.
So when people say the challengers have signed away their rights, in agreeing to this 33rd protocol, I have to disagree.
What happens if a team wins the America’s Cup that doesn’t want the present style of organisation?
One of the beauties of the America's Cup, the thing that makes it different from all other sporting events, is that when you win it, it's not just about collecting the Cup and having your picture in the paper the next day; it doesn't end there. You win the Rugby World Cup and you're famous for a day, you might get knighted at the end of the year, but that's it.
If you win the America's Cup, you have all of that, but you have something else, something more tangible. You have the right, the obligation actually, as a sailor, or someone enthusiastic about the sport of sailing, to create the next event in the context that you see it. So, coming back to the Swiss situation; as they don't have the sea, they are always going to be living in somebody else's town, but if the French, or the New Zealanders, or the Italians won the America's Cup, there's no question that it would go to their country, because that's why they do it, they want to bring the cup home, it's a big part of what it's all about. Now, whether it's about making a lot of money, or not, if it wants to be taken seriously, any organiser in any sport needs a commercial organisation behind it.
The America's Cup now has that, but it doesn't mean that, if you win it for another country, you can't have your vision and run it that way. I'm sure that's what motivates Sir Keith Mills, he is challenging for Britain, but he is also saying 'I want to win it for my country, but I also care passionately about the sport of sailing and I know a little bit about organising things and I want my vision for the America's Cup to happen in the future.' He will have that right, if he wins it, an Italian would have the right, if he won it, just as the Swiss have now. They have the right, because they won it.
So, you think that's part of the prize?
It is, definitely, part of the prize and people tend to forget that. It's part of the reason that those captains of industry are motivated to challenge in the first place. It's not just about getting your picture in the paper, the big aim is to win this and then to host it next time.
Let's come to the court case. The impression given by GGYC is that Larry Ellison & Co are fighting for the sake of all the challengers. Do the challengers need Larry Ellison to represent them, to defend them?
No; no they don't and there's no reason at all for BMW Oracle to be on the outside.
So what's your message to Larry Ellison?
Challenge, drop the court case and challenge.
Do you think he will?