Ellison would by all accounts like to keep his Oracle Team USA
sailing crew and the 35th America's Cup matchup in San Francisco.
Last year's competition overcame a host of early difficulties and
ended with an epic comeback win for Oracle and widespread praise for
the spectacular racing venue on San Francisco Bay.
But despite strong support from San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, initial
negotiations between the city and Oracle team CEO Russell Coutts for
the 2017 event have been rocky.
Local politicians who have long opposed any public subsidies for
what they deride as a rich man's yacht race have gained ammunition
with a report this week showing that the 2013 regatta cost city
taxpayers more than $11 million and created fewer jobs than
That may create an opening for the port of San Diego and Newport,
Rhode Island — both of which have hosted multiple Cup regattas in
the past — as well as the state of Hawaii, where Ellison owns most
of the Island of Lanai.
Coutts confirmed in an email to Reuters on Thursday that, though he
is continuing to talk with San Francisco, he is evaluating
alternative venues. In the meantime, he plans to release next month
the rules for the 2017 event, calling for smaller, less-expensive
catamarans than the 72-foot yachts that competed for the Cup last
The big boats provided an exciting spectacle. But sailors questioned
their safety after a British sailor died in a training accident,
while their prohibitive cost limited the field to just four teams
and undermined the economics of the event.
It's unclear whether other locations are being seriously considered
or simply being used as negotiating leverage in the San Francisco
discussions, but some prominent Cup participants say a return to San
Francisco is anything but assured.
"There was a strong desire to go to San Francisco, and I don't think
there's a lot of confidence that that's going to happen anymore,"
Iain Murray, who was race director for the 2013 contest and is now
heading up an Australian Cup challenge, told Reuters this week.
Bob Nelson, chairman of San Diego's port commission told Reuters
that his city would be thrilled to see the return of an event that
was held there in 1988, 1992 and 1995.
"As great as San Francisco is as a venue, if there's no deal to be
had there, San Diego is ready," said Nelson.
"We're wide-eyed on the fact that San Francisco has invested a great
deal of money and that much of that infrastructure remains
available," said Nelson.
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Brad Read, executive director of Sail Newport, told Reuters on
Wednesday he is filling out a "request for information" to promote
Newport as the host city for the next regatta. Read would not
divulge the questions in the RFI, saying they are confidential.
Read's public-access sailing center on Narragansett Bay would make a
perfect amphitheater for the 2017 series, he said. Newport hosted
the Cup races from 1930 until 1983, when Australia broke the United
States' long stranglehold on the 163-year-old trophy known as the
"Newport is synonymous with the history of the America's Cup," Read
said. "We have the fan base, and we have the track."
Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie expressed a willingness to do
whatever he could to accommodate the races and Ellison.
"The governor thinks it's a tremendous opportunity, and he's
certainly doing his best to be sure that Hawaii's favorably
considered," press secretary Justin Fujioka told Reuters.
Negotiations between San Francisco and Ellison's team were also
contentious last time around. Cup officials flew off to Newport at
the 11th hour before finally reaching a deal with San Francisco.
Murray said San Francisco remains everyone's favorite.
"I think every sailor loves sailing in San Francisco. If you did a
worldwide poll of sailors, racing on the bay in San Francisco would
be right up there," he said. He praised the San Francisco Bay's
ideal geography, its predictable, strong winds and its scenic
backdrop framed by the Golden Gate Bridge.
"All the stars lined up when San Francisco got created for sailors,"
The mayor's office did not return calls or emails. Lee told Coutts
in a December letter that lessons learned from the 34th America's
Cup would guide his approach to the next event.
"I am committed to negotiating an agreement for the 35th America's
Cup in San Francisco ... that maximizes the economic, cultural and
other benefits for the City and eliminates unnecessary risks and
uncertainty," he wrote.
(Reporting by Ronnie Cohen; editing by Jonathan Weber and Alden
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