SAN DIEGO (AP) — Chicago has been eliminated from contention to host the 2017 America’s Cup, leaving San Diego and Bermuda to fight for the right to hold the final rounds of sailing’s marquee regatta.
Despite Chicago’s nickname as the Windy City, “the variability of the wind was quite a major uncertainty for us,” Coutts told The Associated Press by phone July 8 from his home in New Zealand.
The America’s Cup has never been held on a lake. Lake Michigan’s wind is variable because it comes from weather systems rather than the thermal effect that helps generate sea breezes.
“I think it would make a fantastic venue,” Coutts said. “We just need to understand the wind conditions a lot better. Frankly, all the venues had pretty compelling commercial aspects, so it really came down to a choice of conditions.”
Organizers want to avoid unreliable breezes that delay races and harm the America’s Cup as a viable TV sport. The 62-foot wing sail catamarans picked for the next Cup are expected to pop up on hydrofoils in as little as 8 knots of breeze and skim across the tops of the waves.
Coutts said he’ll begin negotiating host-city agreements with San Diego and Bermuda, with commercial support being a big part of any deal.
If San Diego is chosen, racing would be on the bay, not miles offshore as it was during the America’s Cup in 1988, 1992 and 1995.
If Bermuda wins, racing would be close to shore on the Great Sound.
Bermuda is known to sailors for the Newport to Bermuda race and the Bermuda Gold Cup match-racing event.
Coutts says he would have no qualms in taking the America’s Cup to the island that gave the name to an area in the Atlantic Ocean known for mysterious disappearances of ships and airplanes.
A five-time America’s Cup winner, including the last two with Oracle Team USA, Coutts already has raised eyebrows by taking the Auld Mug out of San Francisco because the city didn’t offer the same terms as last year.
Although the 2013 America’s Cup was troubled in many ways, the final round on San Francisco Bay turned into a thriller as space-age American and Kiwi catamarans dueled on a course bordered by the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island and the Embarcadero. Oracle Team USA staged one of the greatest comebacks in sports by winning the final eight races to keep the oldest trophy in international sports.
The choice of Bermuda, a British territory, could make people really look askance at an event that wants both commercial success and mainstream support.
If Bermuda is chosen, it would be the first time a U.S. defender held the America’s Cup outside the United States.
And while thousands of spectators lined the shoreline in San Francisco to watch races, Bermuda is 640 miles off North Carolina.
Coutts said he’s heard the concerns but said Bermuda’s proximity to New York and Europe can help attract TV audiences, and there are direct flights from New York and London.
Coutts declined to reveal the source of commercial support for Bermuda’s bid other than to say it was from “various entities.”
Bermuda’s bid is believed to include income tax concessions for America’s Cup participants.
San Diego organizers are known to be courting local companies such as Qualcomm for support.
Unlike on San Francisco Bay, the entire race course on San Diego Bay would be visible to most spectators. Plans are for the start and finish lines to be in the same spot.
Coutts helped end San Diego’s America’s Cup run when he skippered Team New Zealand to a five-race sweep of Dennis Conner in May 1995.
Oracle Team USA is owned by software billionaire Larry Ellison, who has spent an estimated $500 million since the early 2000s in pursuing, winning and defending the silver trophy. Ellison and Coutts want the event to become self-sustaining commercially.
Bob Nelson, the chairman of the board of commissioners at the Unified Port of San Diego, said: “It’s sort of like being in the World Series. It won’t be any one game that decides this, but which venue offers the overall best performance on several criteria. We’re far from smug, but I like our odds. Now the hard work begins.”
San Diego and Bermuda are competing to host the challenger semifinals and finals, and the America’s Cup match. Earlier rounds would be held elsewhere in the world at venues still to be decided.
America’s Cup officials said July 8 that the host city for America’s Cup 2017 will be announced by the America’s Cup Event Authority before the end of the year.