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  • Aug 21, 2014
  • Updated: 1:49pm
Column
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 September, 2013, 2:54am

America's Cup win for billionaire Larry Ellison a hollow victory

Billionaire Larry Ellison retains America's Cup but dramatic races on San Francisco Bay failed to draw fans and TV ratings

BIO

Tim Noonan has been crafting uniquely provocative columns for the SCMP and SMP for more than a decade. A native of Canada, he has over 20 years’ experience in Asia and has been a regular contributor to a number of prominent publications, including Time magazine, Forbes, The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune and The Independent.
 

Karma lay in wait. The big blowhard bully of a billionaire and his crew of international mercenaries were about to be thoroughly embarrassed on their own turf by the upstarts from a tiny country. Sportsmanship over cheating, humility and dedication over garish bravado - karmic retribution.

Larry Ellison and Russell Coutts, an unrepentant and largely unlikeable duo, were about to be visited by the natural laws of causation at the America's Cup on the shores of San Francisco Bay.

Team New Zealand had amassed a seemingly insurmountable lead over Ellison's Oracle Team USA in the competition for the oldest international sporting trophy. Up eight races to one, all they needed was one more victory to bring the Cup and the race back to New Zealand after a 10-year hiatus. Skipper Dean Barker was saying all the right things, but there was little doubt everybody associated with Team New Zealand was envisioning how they would defend it at home in three years. "Whoever defends it needs to find a way to make it more inclusive," said the earnest Barker.

Few cared about Ellison’s miraculous comeback. TV ratings in the US were abysmal

Because the holders of the Cup get to dictate virtually all protocol for the event, including the type of boat used in the race, it was vital to get more teams back in the Challenger Series. In previous events, there had been as many as 13 boats vying to compete against the holders.

But this time around Ellison had come out with a new, expensive, space-age AC72 wing-sail catamaran protocol that reduced the challengers to all but three boats. In 2002, nine boats from seven countries competed in the Challenger Series in New Zealand and completely invigorated and upgraded the area around Auckland harbour. And now a little more than 10 years later it was about to return. A few tweaks here and there, and all would be right again in a country that has more sailors per capita than any other. It was the Kiwi Coutts who brought the Cup down to New Zealand in the first place when he won it in 1995 and successfully defended it on home turf in 2000. And it was Coutts who took it away from New Zealand in 2003 when he was offered a ton of money to skipper the Swiss team Alinghi. He would go on to skipper Ellison's boat and win him the Cup before becoming chief executive of Oracle Racing for this year's event. And now Ellison and Coutts were being roasted on a skewer. Man, this was going to feel good.

But this is the America's Cup and while there is much talk about sportsmanship, sacrifice and pride, it has always been about money. In the end, big money would win again. Team USA have much more of it than New Zealand and made a couple of major adjustments to stage a remarkable comeback and win 9-8. Still when you have two boats and crews who have spent more than US$100 million, karmic retribution does not come in a monetary flourish.

Karma comes in the fact that few cared about Ellison's miraculous comeback. Television ratings in the US were abysmal and despite the daily drama the event failed to permeate American consciousness. Years from now when coaches are looking for inspiration to rally their team from a large deficit, it's doubtful they will say: Remember Oracle Team USA! Not exactly win one for the Gipper.

In New Zealand, it is a national disaster. This is a country with a sailing culture like no other. I was there in 2002 and the enthusiasm was infectious. This will hurt for a long, long time.

None of that matters to Larry though. Almost immediately after crossing the finish line, the boat picked up their boss for a victory lap around the bay. The principals in both crews had been mic'd throughout the event for television and it often sounded like a scrum between the Wallabies and the All Blacks. Team USA had an Australian skipper, Jimmy Spithill, and a grand total of one American among their 11-man crew. Presumably all those American flags being waved were for off-side trimmer Rome Kirby and as Ellison spoke to Spithill an American voice was heard aboard the Team USA boat for the first time in 17 races.

In three years, Ellison may make the stakes so high that there will be no challengers who can afford it. In that case, his team can merely set out to do a victory lap and nothing else. There will no doubt be legions of xenophobic yobs out in full force to wave the Stars and Stripes as they pass by. And nobody will care. That's truly karma.

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This article is now closed to comments

jon.pintea
Please do a little fact checking before publishing this garbage. 1) New Zealand hosted the Louis Vuitton/America's Cup in 2000 and 2003 not 2002. 2) It was the Kiwis, not the US, who in 2003 ended the nationality requirements for crew which allowed Coutts to become a free Agent. 3) Coutts did not skipper USA-17 in 2010 Jimmy Spithill did. Coutts was CEO of the syndicate. 4) Emirates Team New Zealand also spent in excess of $100 Million and also had two boats for the 2013 Cup 5) TV ratings, while low for US standards, were the highest ever for the America's Cup. Day 1 and 2 of racing had more viewers than all other Cup races combined.
cc88
My god, what a load of poisonous drivel. The AC72s are the most incredible boats ever built. Every single time they went through a jibe on their foils was jaw-dropping. The intensity of the physical effort to sail those boats was equally astonishing. The goddamn speeds they were going were insane, and the broadcast coverage was excellent. Ellison is determined to change yacht racing to bring it to a bigger audience, and this is one step. He had to make it exciting, and he had to win it so he could see through his ideas for the future. That's why he threw so much money at it. Have no doubt that the next America's Cup will have more challengers, and that regattas like the Louis Vuitton Cup will get bigger and bigger as a direct consequence of Ellison's strategy.
XYZ
I don't really care about the America's Cup or Larry Ellison and didn't follow the contest closely. Even so, this article is noticeably bilious, full of personal invective and, apparently, rife with errors!
 
 
 
 
 

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