In the old days, you needed a boat to go and watch an America’s Cup race. Now you can walk up to the edge of the race course. Of the slew of innovations brought in for this America’s Cup, bringing the racing in from the ocean has to be most popular.
Last week a number of our race management team left for Naples, Italy, for the ninth and final America’s Cup World Series (AC World Series) event before the Louis Vuitton Cup and America’s Cup. This gave me pause to think: has the AC World Series been worth it?
Let’s first look back to why the AC World Series was established:
1. Proof of Concept: stadium racing and a live television broadcast that captures the audience;
2. More visibility for team and event sponsors; and
3. Create an annual competition to build anticipation and excitement for the once-every-four-yearly Louis Vuitton Cup and America’s Cup.
Regarding objective 1, the answer is a resounding “yes”, it has been worth it. The AC World Series has created memorable images of the crowds lining the shore and cheering like the fans at a football match. If you ask any of the sailors if they get a buzz when they hear the roar of the crowd, you will get a very vocal “yes”.
Similarly regarding the TV product. If proof was needed that sailing could be exciting, the AC World Series delivered! One Emmy Award already won plus a nomination for a second, along with USA ratings that have at least matched the 2013 NHL averages. Importantly, the ratings suggest that when viewers watch the best sailors racing America’s Cup boats, they tune-in and stay tuned-in.
We have achieved more visibility, both in terms of fans watching the events and TV viewers. As at October 2012 (the second of two events here in San Francisco), the AC World Series had delivered a cumulative TV audience of more than 250-million, nearly 12-million YouTube views, 7-million visitors to the America’s Cup website and more than 2-million spectators on site at regattas.
Naples will be the ninth AC World Series event. We have seen spills and thrills, five different fleet race and four different match race winners. The AC World Series has also seen new stars emerge...young ones!! So “yes”, the AC World Series has delivered the anticipation and excitement we expected. That said, we haven’t delivered a compelling ‘annual season’, but more a series of one-off events.
So where to from here for the AC World Series?
First, it needs a regular season of 14 or more events. All the great competitions have a ‘season’ that includes at least 18 events/matches and we need to get close to that to make the sports pages week after week. This will mean the AC World Series adopts a ‘hub-and-spoke’ model for its logistics: ship to a port and road/rail to multiple locations. Second, the competition needs to be for something the public can relate to: prize money! Third, costs need to be contained, which means shorter events with much less equipment and personnel taken on the road. Finally, having over-achieved as a proof-of- concept series, we need to evolve it into one with a direct and tangible connection to the America’s Cup itself.
The America’s Cup World Series has achieved what it was set up to do. The challenge now is to develop it into a financially sustainable sports property that is connected to the America’s Cup. It is certainly what the sailors want.
CEO, America’s Cup Event Authority