Saturday, December 29, 2007

What happens if Ernesto declines?

It's crunch time. Apart from curious attempts by Alinghi lawyers to protest Justice Cahn's ruling in the New York Supreme Court (NYSC) that Golden Gate Yacht Club (GGYC) is the official challenger for the 33rd Edition of the America's Cup, we are approaching high noon. Gunfight at the OK corral. Actually, for Ernesto (Bertarelli, SUI), it's more like armageddon.

Unless the New York Supreme Court goes bananas, which is unlikely, Ernesto must face GGYC on the water, in a multihull, on the date the NYSC decrees.

Then it's a huge mano-a-mano contest, at great speed and with great skill, pitching a skipper who doesn't love multihulls, Alinghi's Brad Butterworth (NZL), against a skipper who does, Oracle's Russell Coutts (NZL).

If this goes to the water, we hope the ultimate victor will restore the trust, credibility and faith that all of us have in America's Cup (which is what future AC sponsors also desperately need to have their goals and ambitions approved by their boards and shareholders).

Our hope is that the victors will restore an America's Cup America's Cup.

But if Ernesto declines the contest, what happens?

Ernesto is a proud, arrogant and pathologically determined man, but even the pathologically-challenged have their limits.

Ernesto has run off most sponsors, including the great and good Louis Vuitton; he has abused Spain and Valencia; he has run up a huge tab with Team New Zealand (which he must pay if AC33 is delayed); he has insulted every traditional AC classicist on the planet with his manipulation of the Deed of Gift; and for a couple of months, he has hidden himself from view.

Be that as it may.

Ernesto will face the music, pretty soon.

Nobody is discussing it, nobody is thinking about it, but given his pathology and his functional inability to attract life-giving, life-breathing and life-sustaining sponsors, what happens if Ernesto stands down?

What happens if he declines the challenge?

What happens if he decamps, protects his resources (in order to refresh and recharge), and then returns as a challenger normale whenever the real America's Cup resumes?

What happens if Ernesto does that?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Look, it's about money

Money may assuredly sink America's Cup. And I agree with the great gentleman journalist of AC, Mr. Bob Fisher. It shouldn't be about money.

But frankly, money is what keeps AC afloat, just as it keeps every other sporting event on the planet afloat.

Just choose the sport.

It would be nice if there were . . . well . . . billionaires . . . who could dig deeply into their pockets . . . to fund a magnificent sporting event for their elevation and our enjoyment.

The sad fact is, even those . . . billionaires . . . like Ernesto and Larry . . . need help.

All of us, for our pleasure, have become extraordinarily dependent on Louis Vuitton, UBS, BTInfonet, Audemars Piguet, BMW, Oracle, Allianz, Emirates Airlines, Toyota, Estrella Damm, not to mention Prada and Iberdrola, just to name a few.

And it's not enough that the corporate world has to pitch in to make AC happen. But so has Valencia and governmental authorities in Spain. Not to mention Emirates Team New Zealand's friendly sponsor, New Zealand. The country.

Sailors manned boats. But those sponsors financed the great AC32 event we all enjoyed.

While everyone debates protocols, rules, complaints, amicus briefs. And as bloggers blog. And as sailors puff and luff. And as tough, committed partisans like Tom Ehman (USA) and Russell Coutts (NZL) and Brad Butterworth (NZL) and Tom Schnackenberg (NZL) and their teams scurry from meeting to meeting and log in countless hours on conference calls and cellphones . . . all the rest of us simply observe, comment, and freely adjudicate our opinions.

We have the right to do that, and we do.

That's fine.

But over there, on the other side, are the people who write the checks. Bob Fisher, I'm sure, respects them and wishes they didn't exist. But there they are. They have the resources. They love the sport. They love what was presented to them. They are still committed. They are waiting. But the ink in their pens has run dry.

If they are not important, fine. Let's go and make AC33 happen without them. Let's show them!

But a real, solid AC33 isn't going to happen without them. That's obvious.

And the fact of the matter is, unless the AC community clears the decks, acts sane, moves forward, works together, becomes one together, and creates a workable AC33 -- a very realistic and workable AC33, free from controversy and cant -- then AC34 is going to be an equally big, sloppy, ugly mess, just like this one.

There isn't a chief marketing officer, a CEO, or a Board of Directors, anywhere on the planet, who will put a penny into AC33, whatever happens. That's just a big, fat, plain fact.

In today's world AC33 would have to be the biggest, riskiest promotional investment on the planet. Bar none.

And frankly, at this point, it would be very difficult to get any sane, reasonable board to approve any kind of investment, either, in AC34, if this keeps up.

As if you hadn't noticed, sponsors have left the stage.

Like boats that were near you in the water, just a moment ago, they are now long gone. What you now see around you is a big, black, threateningly ugly cloud. It's the harbinger of a storm that could last five years, unless we do something.

Money may not relate to the purity of the event. I'm with you on that.

But money matters as to whether the event actually happens or not.

Did you look? AC33 ain't happening.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

It's still going to be multihulls

Ernesto is crafty. He announces his vision and enlists the support of every vested interest in America's Cup to discuss the Protocol of the Future.

We admired that (see previous post).

Fortunately, he invites the involvement of the New York Yacht Club (NYYC), without whom any AC discussion is irrelevant. NYYC agrees. Wouldn't you agree? Of course you would. This is their baby. NYYC adds huge cautionary remarks.

In his last paragraph, Ernesto subtly links future protocol discussions with the multihull competition. Do this, he says, or we race multihulls.

Wait a minute, says Tom Ehman (USA), spokesperson of BMW Oracle, forget the future. Think about now. We still have AC33 to deal with. So exactly what's it going to be? 90-foot boats? Multihulls? What?

Larry Ellison (USA), chief of BMW Oracle, following appeals by Tom Ehman and those who attended meetings with Alinghi this week, puts pen to paper and asks Ernesto, fairly and reasonably, the same questions.

Well, the reality is, unless Ernesto can pull an underwriting sponsor for AC33 out of the sailbag, it's going to be multihulls. He can't afford anything else.

Ernesto, probably, will wait until the last yawning moment, just before Judge Cahn's announcement of the new timetable, or immediately after, to confirm that it's all multihulls, all the way, and it's going to be in Valencia in 2009. And by the way, it's not my fault, he will say. I promised you the future. You couldn't make it happen. So we race multihulls. Don't blame me.

If somebody said, let's forget that, let's race the old Version 5 boats and have a great regatta (which actually is a fine idea), there's still that nagging problem for Ernesto, no sponsor.

So, build those multihulls.

P.S. Ernesto is getting hammered for proposing his Protocol of the Future. But how could that be worse than corrupting an old protocol to govern an America's Cup event it could never possibly support?

Something had to give.

The solid guarantee in all of this is NYYC's involvement, and the involvement of all previous trustees. All of us have to trust them to protect America's Cup. Even if some of us accept that a lot of what Ernesto says (about planning, sponsors, timetables, venues, costs) makes sense.

Like it or not.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Congratulations, Ernesto

A contemplative Ernesto
by Alinghi's talented
Ivo Rovira

We salute Ernesto.

We hope that his initiative, Larry Ellison's response and goodwill, and the good offices of the New York Yacht Club can come together and work together to achieve what everyone on the planet wants -- including Brad Butterworth and Russell Coutts, as well as every other skipper, team and nominating club.

And that's a fabulous America's Cup 33, one that looks to the past, and to the future, and creates an even greater event than AC32, which everyone loved.

We hope the dates being contemplated for the event are sooner, rather than later. Obviously, 2009 would be perfect.

We hope this reconciliation will attract the attention (and goodwill) of sponsors who may finally see way to become involved in America's Cup for the first time, or to renew their commitment, or to return to the event.

Maybe we are asking too much. But Ernesto has given a lot.

Let's give him a chance.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

It's all about money

There isn't going to be a Challenger series.

There is going to be a Deed of Gift race.

It doesn't have anything to do with Ernesto (Bertarelli, SUI). America's Cup Management (ACM). Or Société Nautique de Genève (SNG). It doesn't have anything to do with Justice Cahn, either. Or Golden Gate Yacht Club. Or Larry Ellison (USA). Or any of them.

Except, of course, all of them, indirectly.

Even if Ernesto desperately wanted to compete as Defender in a conventional, re-negotiated Challenger-driven America's Cup in 2009, there is one huge, enormous piece missing.

An underwriting sponsor for the Challenger series.

With Louis Vuitton's departure and Ernesto's hubris/arrogance/anger (pick one), nobody has picked up the slack and nobody we know is waiting in the wings to write big checks.

If Ernesto had someone ready to invest in a Challenger series, believe me, it would be all over the planet and we would certainly know about it by now. But it ain't. And we don't. And unless Ernesto has the world's greatest surprise tucked away in his sail bag (like Rolex or Nestlé or Swiss Army or anybody, for that matter), we aren't likely to hear anything about an underwriting sponsor for a Challenger series for America's Cup 2009, anytime soon.

Ernesto will wait until the last yawning moment, defined probably by the timetable of the New York Supreme Court, then accede (loudly/aggressively/competitively/angrily/blamingly, pick one) to a Deed of Gift competition with BMW Oracle (USA).

Even if he signed a major sponsor tomorrow, which is unlikely, that sponsor and their promotional agencies would barely have time to organize the investment and design the program before the Summer of 2009.

Already, the promotional commitments of major corporations for 2008 have been completed.

That happened early this year, if not in the Autumn of 2006. The earliest any corporate planners could get any kind of conceptual program together to secure board approval for the investment would be late Spring 2008, if not post-Summer 2008.

There's just not enough time to make it happen.

Which begs some inevitable questions.

Did Ernesto actively seek sponsorship and underwriting? Or did he ignore it? Is this something he doesn't like to do and, in fact, cannot do?

Remember, he inherited Louis Vuitton.

And his humility (sic) isn't the kind of thing that can easily play second fiddle to the emotions and ambitions of a major corporate underwriter. You have to make corporate entities feel like the giants they believe themselves to be.

This would be extraordinarily difficult for Ernesto. Remember, he is the tall tree, none taller.

And remember, Louis Vuitton was a different matter entirely. Ernesto had little to do with Louis Vuitton's involvement in America's Cup. It was Bruno Troublé's passion for the event, his vision for the Louis Vuitton Cup, and Louis Vuitton's trust in his vision that made the Challenger Series a hallmark of the America's Cup and a fixture in world sport.

Can you believe how difficult it will be to install an underwriter of this caliber?

In time for the Summer of 2009?

Goodness, gracious me.

So let's loft those multihulls and sharpen those hydrofoils.

It's Deed of Gift time.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Ernesto, onward!

Ernesto loves sailing and loves winning. But frankly, we are tired of coaching him. He doesn't listen. We have given up trying to understand his psychology. He is an enigma. Nevertheless, here we go, yet again, plunging into the maelstrom.

We urge you, Ernesto, to negotiate. Look at the situation.

Everything is moving along, honkey dory. The challengers are united, and committed to a conventional America's Cup in 2009. Even the celebrated 'Nine Points' survive, a great concession to you, to Valencia, and to the Cup, with even greater commitments from all challengers for Valencia as the host for America's Cup 34, the edition that will follow in 2010 or 2011. This is great for everyone.

Noise from Valencia suggests that a bona fide challenger's series may even attract the interest of experienced sponsors, such as Louis Vuitton, who departed rather than embrace your original protocol. Perhaps Louis Vuitton, perhaps not.

Interestingly, the challengers even embrace 90-foot boats, even if purists and perhaps even the great sailor and great purist Mr. Troublé (of Louis Vuitton) do not. That's something to embrace, isn't it? You said you wanted planing boats. They will create them for you. It may take some explaining, however, for Mr. Troublé. But he is a gentleman, and gentlemen always listen to reason.

The big fact in all of this, however, as if you hadn't noticed, is money.

You haven't been able to attract sponsors to support your version of AC33, perhaps because you never asked, or never asked the right way, or didn't bother, or perhaps because you never had a mandate for the event.

Now America's Cup itself has the mandate. Judge Cahn returned it to the challengers.

And yet the challengers are willing to work with you to make things happen. They are ready to pick up where negotiations were abandoned by your people -- your lawyers, your skipper, and even you.

You owe it to America's Cup, to the City of Valencia, to Spain, to your nominating club (an organization with apparently inexhaustable patience), and to your fabulous team, to say yes.

If you do not say yes, Alinghi loses. Valencia loses. You probably also lose on the water, in multihull hydrofoils. The Cup possibly even departs for San Francisco. Then Alinghi loses again, so does Valencia, so does the Cup, and a great legacy is squandered.

You aren't listening, we know that. You only listen to you.

But you are smart. Even you know, if you truly believe in America's Cup, that the shortest step and the greatest honor is sitting down and making AC33 happen as it should, as a classic America's Cup, for all nations, in 2009.

As difficult for you as that may be.

But you have courage in abundance, and it only takes a little courage to do this.

You may think the courageous path is multihulls.

That's not courage. That's lunacy.