Monday, January 3, 2011

Bigger Than You Think

The vast majority of Bay Area residents greeted the news that the next America's Cup yacht races will be held on San Francisco Bay with a variation on the theme of, "Oh, that's nice." That's if they bothered to react at all.

Well, I'm here to tell you: this is a big damned deal.

A standard knock on yacht racing is that it's a sport for rich men--as if our beloved American pro sports are played by paupers employed by the middle class. It's a specious argument. I will admit that in the past, America's Cup races have been hard to follow--the race courses were usually well offshore and technology didn't support decent coverage.

But by the time the racing begins on the Bay in the summer of 2013 (actually, lead-up races are likely in the summer of 2012), you'll see yacht racing in a whole new light. For one thing, these are remarkable machines. The image (above right) of the new AC 72 boats (yet to be built) doesn't convey the sheer spectacle they'll present. These boats have masts 130 feet tall and will tear across the water at speeds approaching 35 MPH. And they'll be very visible, sailing right off the San Francisco waterfront.

But the biggest change will be how technology puts the racing right in your hands. Imagine turning on your iPad and watching a live video feed from one of these boats ripping across the Bay. I can tell you, as someone who's had the opportunity to drive older-generation (and smaller) America's Cup boats, it's breathtaking. The strain on the sails and lines and spars can be heard as well as felt, and current video and Internet technology will bring this to the masses. Mock me now, but you'll download the app by 2013.

The people running the massive America's Cup operation will soon be setting up offices in San Francisco. They'll be hiring local people to work on the environmental impact report, build the spectator and racing facilities, set up the broadcast center and so on. Local marine businesses will get busier. Restaurants, hotels, and caterers will see more bookings.

By late March, we'll know exactly how many teams will challenge for the Cup in the summer of 2013. It looks like it could be a dozen or more from places as far-flung as Australia, France, China, and Sweden. Each of those teams will eventually set up camp in San Francisco.

This is where the economic impact of an America's Cup really happens. Yacht racers need to work out at health clubs, buy groceries, rent apartments, pick up hardware items, and much more. Money simply flows out of each of those team compounds into the local economy. I watched it happen in Auckland, New Zealand in 1999 and 2000, where the America's Cup transformed a previously-shabby waterfront area known as the Viaduct Basin.

Personalities will emerge. The thousands of Bay Area residents who already sail will start talking the America's Cup up to their friends and neighbors. The visuals will be spectacular.

By the summer of 2013, you'll be arguing with coworkers about the best starting line tactics and wondering why Artemis Racing didn't cover Desafio Espanol's tack on that crucial leg the day before.

I told you this would be big.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You nailed it. Excellent post. This is going to be completely awesome.