About halfway through the 34th America's Cup finals this past summer, Oracle Team USA was trailing Emirates Team New Zealand by a hefty margin. Oracle, the defending regatta champion, had started from behind because of a penalty and then went into a deep deficit. But after some adjustments to its boat, the team staged a dramatic comeback and captured the Cup again.
Mayor Ed Lee, in his proposal for The City to host the 35th America's Cup sailing event in 2017, has signaled that San Francisco also needs to make some adjustments — a smart tactical move after The City faced rough seas from the last deal that nearly left San Francisco underwater, figuratively speaking.
There has been plenty of finger-pointing about the way in which The City bid to host the last regatta. San Francisco may hold some of the blame for offering up what turned out to be a bad real estate deal involving city piers, giving overly rosy projections of economic benefits and overpromising private fundraising to help cover costs. Oracle Team USA and its owner, Larry Ellison, also could be blamed for using large, expensive boats that made it too expensive for many teams to compete.
There were critics of the race who said the event would be too costly for The City. And San Francisco did end up stuck with about $5.5 million in costs. But there were also economic benefits to The City and the region, including the creation of construction jobs and other work. The Bay Area Council, a business advocacy organization, said the races and public events generated $550 million in economic activity for the region and roughly $6.6 million in tax revenue.
The exact economic benefits of the America's Cup, which was held during the peak tourism season in San Francisco, may be somewhere between the critics' and the boosters' estimates. What is nearly universal in agreement is that the scope of the races was too broad.
With that, Lee has proposed to the America's Cup Event Authority, which will select the venue for the next regatta, an event that “draws on the many lessons of AC34 and the past three years to stage another exciting series of racing that maximizes the economic, cultural and other benefits for The City and eliminates unnecessary risk and uncertainty.”
The proposal calls for the venue to be more limited to northern waterfront areas, and for the event time period “to engage spectators in a higher and more consistent level of excitement from the very beginning while at the same time limiting ongoing impacts of and resources devoted to the event,” the mayor told the authority.
Oracle Team USA also seems to have learned lessons from the last race. Its CEO, Russell Coutts, told the news service Reuters on Monday that the team wants to stage the 2017 regatta in San Francisco, though it prefers smaller catamarans than were used in the finals.
It is too late to fix the issues from the last America's Cup, but there is plenty of time for The City to make the adjustments needed to host a more successful race next time.