As the December 31 decision deadline draws nearer, BMW Oracle Racing has a choice to make: Do they stick with the wishy-washy San Francisco, or do they choose Newport in the 11th hour, a place where home is where the sailing is.
I’ve never been to Newport, Rhode Island. But BMW Oracle’s negotiators, Tom Ehman and Stephen Barclay, have grown intimately familiar with the landscape of this coastal New England city situated on Narragansett Bay.
Over the past few weeks, controversy has swirled over the BMW Oracle venue choice for America’s Cup 34. San Francisco gained Larry Ellison’s interest early on as BMW Oracle’s home yacht club, Golden Gate YC, is based there. San Francisco seemed like a natural choice for the America’s Cup. Defender BMW Oracle and Ellison, the syndicate head, have ties there, and the city has faced financial struggles like much of California; an America’s Cup would pump huge sums into the economy and possibly even rejuvenate the area.
Late last week, the City of San Francisco surprised us all as they changed terms of their bid after already submitting it to BMW Oracle without consulting the race organizers; and, just like that, things began to unravel.
Newport has shown nothing but spirit. The city’s organizers have worked overtime on a holiday in order to woo the race’s organizers. The city is buzzing. In an interview with the Providence Journal, PUMA Ocean Racing CEO Ken Read compared Newport to Galway, Ireland, the finish port of the 2008-2009 edition of the Volvo Ocean Race.
In tiny Galway, Ireland, in May 2009, Read and his team pulled into port at 3 a.m. with an estimated 10,000 people greeting the sailors –– “and for the whole week, they said it was one of the highest revenue-grossing events in the history of Ireland.” In New York City, one morning in the midst of the 2006-2007 race, they pulled into port at 9 a.m. with “not a single person there on the dock outside of our teams … to watch us.”
Read claims that PUMA Ocean Racing, based in Newport, has spent more than $20 million locally. PUMA is having their Volvo Open 70, engineered for the 2011-2012 Volvo Ocean Race, built at New England Boatworks in Portsmouth. Clearly, sailing is important to the locals.
Newport is a hub for sailing activity in the United States. Shipbuilders, sail lofts, and even Tom Ehman himself. Sailing is part of the culture in Newport – a big part of the culture. As Read also points out, “[sailing] events get lost in major cities.” Competing with other, more mainstream sports is always a problem.
But some big cities can pull that off. Working at the Volvo Ocean Race in Boston last year, I can testify to the fact that over the course of a weekend, 100,000+ Bostonians cruised in and out of the race village, where admission was free. Even on the night of a Celtics game, people were not afraid to come down to Fan Pier.
It will be interesting to see what decision is made at the end of this month. While I would like Newport to come through with a victory on this one, I’ll just be glad to have the Cup back in the United States.