There are plans to restructure the America's Cup and take it out of the 19th century and into the 21st century. The proponents, effectively, would take the race away from the yacht clubs and operate it like a mainstream professional sporting event with a single governing body, including a well paid commissioner and full-time staff, that would stage the regatta every two or three years. They argue this would make it more appealing to commercial sponsors by making more money available for the event and the professional sailors who now dominate it.
Does that sound familiar? A bit like Ernesto Bertarelliís vision for the Cup?
Ernesto Bertarelli was not the first to have a vision of a modernised America’s Cup that bore little resemblance to its Deed of Gift origins. He was not the first to ask a port to pay, nor the first to consider putting the event out to the highest bidder. He was not even the first to form a separate America’s Cup management company.
In October 1990, the America's Cup Organizing Committee (ACOC) asked San Diego Board of Port Commissioners for $10 million to fund the 1992 race. The proposed budget was presented to the Commissioners by ACOC Executive Vice President Tom Ehman, on behalf of the committee which was requesting $8.73 million in cash and $1.27 million in "in kind" donations - office space, rent and other freebies. ACOC was responsible for all event activities including TV coverage, media relations, on water event management, press relations, sale and protection of licensing rights, numerous aspects of sponsor relations and more, whilst its subsidiary - America's Cup Services - offered San Diego businesses opportunities to get involved.
It wasn’t long though, before the San Diego Business Journal was reporting that some of those San Diego businesses were disgruntled. “Amid concerns over the finances of the America's Cup Organizing Committee, some local businesses who contributed up to $50,000 as official sponsors complain they haven't received much for their money.” said the paper in August 1991.
Alas, by July 1992, the paper had more bad news to report. “The largest creditors of the America's Cup Organizing Committee could receive anywhere from 13 cents to 38 cents on the dollar under a payout plan discussed last week.” The ACOC owed 180 creditors about $3.7 million, according to the paper. Ironically, the second largest was said to be the Latham & Watkins law firm, which is now representing Golden Gate Yacht Club!
The San Diego Yacht Club’s Board of Directors, which had created ACOC, had previously voted not to renew ACOC's contract, nor that of General Manager Tom Ehman to run the '95 event.
One year on, a new group handling the America’s Cup - America's Cup '95 – met with a chilly response, when they went to the San Diego Port Commissioners, with a request for $5.95 million to help stage the next event. The San Diego Business Journal quoted board Chairman Raymond Burk as saying "This is deja vu. We've heard it before. All this talk about showcasing downtown, an America's Cup village and whoop dee doo, but it was a flop."
Modernising the Cup
In December 1999, the San Diego Metropolitan spoke of plans to restructure the America's Cup; to take it out of the 19th century and into the 21st century. According to the paper, those behind the concept would “take the race away from the yacht clubs and operate it like a mainstream professional sporting event with a single governing body — including a well-paid commissioner and full-time staff that would stage the $300 million regatta every two or three years.” One of the proponents named was Tom Ehman.
Against Ehman, according to the paper, was Dennis Conner, who opposed the notion of a single management authority and felt the event was fine the way it was. However, the paper added “It would be no surprise if Conner shopped the event around and offered it to the highest bidder. Which is what Ehman is suggesting, except that his proposed America's Cup International would issue the Request for Proposals, not the cup winner.”
Formula One style
On March 11, 2002, grandprix.com published a story by Formula One journalist, Joe Saward, who pointed out that Formula 1 and the America's Cup have a lot in common. Saward said “There are lots of crossovers, not least in the marketing where a company called 'Travel and More' is applying some F1 ideas in the world of sailing. This is run by Tom Ehman, who was in charge of West's sponsorship of McLaren in the early days and nowadays runs a quietly successful VIP entertainment company in F1 circles, looking after the big cheeses, booking flights, getting the best hotels and delivering the VIPs to the door of the Paddock Club. Ehman is now trying to do for the America's Cup what Allsport Management has done for F1. The "Paddock Club" will be replaced by "The Base Club" but the concept is the same - giving VIP guests a good time around the racing scene with the sponsors paying for it.”
Grandprix.com was talking of America's Cup and Formula 1 crossover again, in 2005, mentioning that Thomas Ehman had been named chairman of a Challenger Commission and had been using his experience in F1 to try to change the way in which the challenger was chosen “by proposing a system of trials, which are not dissimilar to Formula 1 rather than the traditional knock-out competition, which meant that some teams did not last long in the competition.”
Two year cycle
As recently as January 2007, Tom Ehman was interviewed at the London Boat Show about BMW Oracle Racing’s drive to stage the America's Cup every two years instead of four. Ehman said “Most of the 12 teams competing this year are strongly in favor of a two-year cycle because it would cut costs and provide a more regular revenue stream. You would get more interest, more excitement, more events in a shorter period of time, more television, more revenue and less money going out the door. It's a much better deal.''
Fast forward to October 05, 2007
Ernesto Bertarelli took the America's Cup back to the New York Yacht Club and talked of his vision for the 33rd America's Cup, which included “A very strong underlying theme to reduce cost.'' Bertarelli said that enlarging the boats used in the race and reducing the time between competitions to two years from four would make the event more marketable and profitable.
Bloomberg quoted Ehman as saying “All of us are just astonished by what is taking place here. We don't understand what was wrong with what was done last time.''
What changed? The records show that, just like Ernesto Bertarelli, Tom Ehman has wanted the America’s Cup to be modernised and notions enshrined in the Deed of Gift changed. What Bertarelli did in having ACM manage the Cup in a professional and commercial manner, was what Ehman had tried to do back in 1990, with ACOC & ACS. Way back in 2002, Tom Ehman was steering the America’s Cup towards Formula One style entertainment, yet Ernesto Bertarelli has been castigated for mentioning the two events in the same paragraph?