Time zone issues curtailed viewership in Europe for the last America’s Cup held in San Francisco 2013, but that’s not the case anticipated for Bermuda, the host for the 35th America’s Cup.
Bermuda’s Great Sound will be placed on the world stage starting this October when the match race series begins. And now that NBC Sports has secured US broadcasting rights, another AC partnership to cover the presitigious race in the European market is due within the next few weeks.
Director of the America’s Cup Event Authority, Sir Russell Coutts, in response to questions by Bermuda Real said the UK rights “are out to bid now”. He met with the local media at a press briefing held at Fairmont Hamilton Princess on February 10th.
“There will be a decision on that within the next weeks, so there’s obviously a big competitive process going on for the premiere league rights right now within the UK,” said Coutts. “And we’ll make a decision as I said, within the next few weeks in terms of the America’s Cup rights and who our broadcast partner will be within the UK.
“That’s another [what I would call] one of the almost foundation broadcast agreements that we will need to have. And obviously with a strong UK team involved this time, that’s an important contract for us in those terms as well.”
His colleague Peter Rusch, ACEA Director of Communications was one of several speakers at the recent inaugural summit held by the Bermuda Tourism Authority held in January.
He told some 320 stakeholders in attendance: “There was was a time zone issue in San Francisco that wasn’t good for the European market, but that’s not the case for Bermuda.”
When contacted by Bermuda Real on the anticipated AC35 viewership, he said the 34th America’s Cup garnered “a cumulative audience of 957 million viewers in 203 territories”.
In all, he said AC34 generated “60 hours of live television”, which subsequently led to “an Emmy Award for technical innovation and another Emmy nomination”.
Once the final tally was made, he said: “There were “over 27-million YouTube views, with over 100-million minutes watched on YouTube in September 2013 alone (the month of the America’s Cup Finals). We have good numbers but we’re not the Super Bowl.”
The 49th SuperBowl on Sunday, February 1, 2015, set a new record with the largest television audience for a single broadcast in the US – some 114.4 million viewers tuned in across America.
Although Oracle Team USA is number one Mr Rusch noted: “New Zealand had a huge lead in the finals, and had the highest viewer figures during that race in 2013 which is an indication of the type of passion associated with this race”.
“A racing window of 2pm to 4pm in San Francisco translated to 11pm to 1am in Europe, which was late – particularly on weeknights,”said Mr Rusch.
“An afternoon start in Bermuda would be in prime time in the UK and Europe, which will work well on both coasts of the United States as well. It would also be an early morning breakfast television slot in New Zealand, which works quite well for our teams,” he added.
While explaining why Bermuda was considered an ideal location for AC35, Mr Rusch said: “When you win the America’s Cup, you also win the rights to the next event, which means Oracle Team USA had the right to pick the location.”
He described the Great Sound as an ideal location for AC35. “The race course is stunning, it’s close and will be very challenging because of the wide variety of conditions we’re going to get in Bermuda, unlike any other location in the world; plus the time zone aspect is great for viewership.”
His comments were echoed by Sir Russell who said AC35 will be “fantastic”. “I was blown away yesterday and the day before….and I’m blown away by the colour of the water here, it’s amazing.
“But I think the Great Sound will be fantastic not only from a racing perspective. From a television perspective, you’re going to have the relativity of the different colours of the water and also the islands and land forms that are around.
“You can imagine when a boat is speeding along at the speeds that these boats do, if it’s in [the] open ocean you don’t really get that perspective of the speed necessarily. But if it’s racing past land forms and so forth then you can kind of picture it, and people will get a sense of relativity. So that’s good,” said Coutts.
“Also, if you think about the guests who will be coming to the island for the event, it’s a smooth water venue which of course if you’re entertaining guests that’s an important factor quite frankly. You don’t want to put them in an uncomfortable situation, but also the climate.
“It frankly was a challenge in some of the other venues to get guests out on the water, and it could be not unfriendly – but it might be uncomfortable conditions. I don’t think that’s going to be an issue here” he added.
By racing in the Great Sound he noted that spectators will be able to see the enitre track. But he noted that the size of the Great Sound will also present racing challenges.
“It’s a small race course so it’s tight. As a former racer that presents challenges because the winds are changing all the time…but you’ve also have boundaries on the course. For example, if the wind changes direction on an open course you can .spend more time waiting for the wind to perhaps change back, whereas on a very tight course if the wind changes direction you’re often forced to go on to the wrong tact at the wrong time.
“So you better be looking at how that wind is changing and planning you’re course. In these boats when they’re moving along at 40 knots plus, you haven’t actually got a lot of time to evaluate the situation. So that provides challenges and I think it’s why you’re seeing younger athletes on these boats frankly, which is good, said Coutts.
“We want a race course that’s complex in a way tactically and difficult – the America’s Cup wasn’t meant to be easy, so it’s a good race course.”
Asked for his predictions on AC35 Coutts said: “I think many people would have had a different prediction halfway through the final series last time than what actually turned out in the end.
“It’s tough to make predictions and each of the teams have very talented people on them… every single Cup is different. The winning factors last time almost certainly won’t be the same. There will be new factors that will determine who wins this next America’s Cup and that’s exciting.”
Meanwhile, Mr Rusch told the audience gathered at Fairmont Southampton that there may be a sixth team to compete in AC35 – an Asian team. “We will know for sure within the next six weeks.” When asked by Bermuda Real for the update this month he said there was “nothing new to report on the Asian team yet,” he said.
Reflecting on the history of the prestigious event he noted that the America’s Cup “predates the Olympics by 50 years and pre-dates the US Civil War as well”.
“There’s no schedule for it, it is a challenge-based event, and America had the longest run as winner of the America’s Cup; which now has an app for viewers to watch the race series on all devices. The America’s Cup is always pushing on the cutting edge of technology. As a matter of fact the AC was the first big international sports event to be broadcast live on radio.
Today, Oracle Team USA, the crew, sailors and all those associated with the America’s Cup are some of the best in the world. Sir Ben Anslie is the best Olympic sailor in the world who has four Olympic gold medals, who competes with multiple Olympic championship title holders,” he added.
Regarded as “the most successful sailor in Olympic history”, Ainslie won medals at five consective Olympic Games from 1996 to 2012, including four gold medals at the last four events in that timeframe. He is also the first to win medals for sailing in five different Olympic Games.
On the sport side of the America’s Cup Mr Rusch also noted that the Red Bull Event has produced “sailors coming into this race series at a very young age, contrary to the traditional age group”.
“AC45s opened the door for a new generation of sailors. The winner from the New Zealand team was hired by the New Zealand AC team, and will be steering for that team in the C35. The age range for the younger sailors like Jimmy Spithill are coming into this event now in their late 20s,” Mr Rusch said.
AC35 World Series races will be held in the home ports of the competing teams, starting in Cagliari,Italy on June 5 to 7 this year. That series will be followed by races in Portsmouth, Great Britain from July 23 to 26, Gothenburg, Sweden from August 28 to 30, and in Hamilton, Bermuda on October 16 to 18, 2015.
“Another four to six events are expected in 2016, including a second event in Portsmouth in July and a regatta in Chicago during the summer of 2016,” said Mr Rusch.
The America’s Cup website also describes the AC World Series as “a racing circuit featuring the best sailors in the world, competing on foiling, wingsailed catamarans – an updated version of the AC45 raced in the last series”.
The circuit is also described as “an early opportunity to put points on the board that carry forward into the next stage of the competition”. The overall ranking position in the AC World Series “determines the starting points score of the teams in the AC Qualifiers”.
Mr Rusch told tourism stakeholders that all of the competing teams in AC35 will race in the first stage of the qualifiers.
“If Oracle Team USA wins they get the bonus points in the finals, as will any other team that wins,” he said. “Then Oracle gets excused from the rest of the qualifiers if they win the first race series, and the challengers will do the elimination rounds to be the challenger against the current cup winner, Oracle Team USA in June 2017.”
All in all, he said AC35 has all the makings of another great America’s Cup Series in pursuit of the oldest trophy in the international sports world. And Bermuda is geographically placed in an ideal time zone for maxium viewership around the globe.
By Ceola Wilson