More ill winds

America's Cup -- or America's flop?

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EDITORIAL After years of hype, the 34th America's Cup finally got underway on the San Francisco Bay this past week — with a single boat formally winning in a match against itself, a fitting metaphor for this whole disappointing affair.

Emirates Team New Zealand sailed solo while its Italian would-be competitor, Luna Rossa, stayed ashore to protest a rule change on rudder design that had been unilaterally decided by regatta director Iain Murray. The third competitor with Larry Ellison's Oracle Racing team that is defending the cup and hosting the event, Swedish team Artemis, was still trying to rebuild its vessel after a tragic accident resulted in the death of a renowned sailor in May.

It was a lame kickoff. The anticipated hordes of race-goers have yet to materialize, with the once-regal America's Cup reduced to just another Fisherman's Wharf tourist trap. In a display that might as well have been used to entice tourists to the Wax Museum, a barker outside the event's sprawling Pier 27 spectator area fruitlessly tried to lure passersby: "See the fastest boats in the world!"

In an interview with ABC7 news, Oracle Racing CEO Russell Coutts declared the Italians to be "acting like a bunch of spoiled babies," adding that if they didn't want to race, they should just leave. You could practically hear the event's corporate sponsors burying their faces in the palms of their hands.

It wasn't supposed to be this way. In 2010, when software tycoon Larry Ellison of the Oracle Racing Team hinted to city officials that he might want to stage the next Cup on the Bay, if not Italy or some other exotic destination, economists with the Bay Area Council trumpeted the economic gain that stood to be reaped if Ellison's plan was realized.

Since a dozen teams competed during the last America's Cup, the authors of the study reasoned, at least as many could be expected to join this time around. Those initial projections — $1.4 billion in economic activity (like three Super Bowls!, the analysts enthused), thousands of new jobs, a tourism windfall — sounded so rosy in part because 15 syndicates were expected to compete.

But in time, this optimism faded and the city is arguably on the hook for millions in race-related costs. Fortunately, then-District 6 Sup. Chris Daly scuttled an initial plan to cede vast swaths of city-owned waterfront property to Ellison in exchange for the expected economic gain, thus averting an even greater loss.

Meanwhile, Oracle is weathering accusations that it cheated by slipping a design change into a list of safety recommendations, conveniently granting itself a competitive edge. An international jury's decision on whether to honor the rule change was still up in the air at press time. While we at the Guardian find ourselves rooting for the Kiwis, we remind Ellison that it isn't too late to right this ship — and cutting a check to the city to cover its losses would be a great place to start.