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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Not What it Said on the Box

I found the following interesting enough to post and comment on.
It is an open letter to the America’s Cup Event Authority (ACEA) by somebody who was associated with a credible prospective competitor. 
Given my experiences as part of an official competitor that found the ever changing new format untenable, I would broadly agree with the principal views expressed in the letter.
However, focusing as it does on the point person, is perhaps to the detriment of a broader look at an organisation that has great resources available, and an admirable stated vision, but appears to be working without defined milestones, and hence with no accountability/metrics for quantifying success with reference to its stated aims. 
The old saying of 'shoot first and call whatever you hit the target' comes to mind.
Analysing the shifting philosophies (such as the decoupling of the ACWS from the AC 'proper'), the stringent controls being stockpiled by the Defender, the inconsistent treatment of different competitors, and the ongoing redefinition of identified profit centres, one cannot help but speculate that at least some of the actions of the many branches of the organisation are governed by different and conflicting agendas. 
Add to the mix massive commercial interests without the checks and balances of a strong voice from challengers with genuine countervailing interests, and you have an event that resembles more a choreographed WWF wrestling show than a 'friendly competition between nations'.
If these were isolated outbursts of individual criticism, they could be dismissed as 'sour grapes' and we could all get on with the show. 
But the mounting evidence is pervasive and compelling
The credibility of the critics is growing, and the objective results are indicative of a deeply flawed approach if the stated goals are taken as a measure of success.
In my opinion the single best thing to come out of this low point in the cyclical nature of the AC is the rediscovery, popularisation, and acceleration in development of the modern racing multihull.
For this unwitting byproduct I am grateful, despite the mess.
The show will be spectacular, in a way similar to the Valencia DoG match: The boats will be spectacular. The images will be compelling because of the backdrop and the accessibility of the course. 
But, again, it will be low in numbers and be steered by a power that is not counterbalanced by genuine opposing interests.
"An Open Letter to America’s Cup Event Authority Chairman Richard Worth from 
Peter Huston
The purpose of this letter is to bring to your attention the concern that many of us share in the direction that you are taking the marketing aspects of the America’s Cup, and to offer suggestions for improvement.
I speak not as an individual; however I do have experience with ACEA as an individual through my association with Paul Henderson and Kevin Reed of Red Maple Racing, a life long association with the sport, and an experienced background in entertainment marketing, including sailing. Rather, I speak as someone who gets constantly asked by friends within the sailing community about what is up with the Cup. They want to place blame on Golden Gate YC for not reaching out to the sailing community and not telling the story of what’s up with the Cup. The blame is not GGYC’s, the blame is yours.
As much as you and the rest of the staff at ACEA might want to spin things, in addition to your failure to reach the sailing community, of those few people you have reached, you have alienated far too many, for no good reason. “Out with the Flintstones and in with the Facebook” was just the start. Many of us grew up with the Flintstones, and have a Facebook page. Announcing ACWS dates, but no venues, and then never fulfilling those dates, as recently as this January. Why have announced dates with no venues too often not materialized? Is it because you had completely unrealistic venue fee pricing expectations based your completely unrealistic and unsustainable event production budget? A checkered flag at the finish line? Seriously? In a day and age when “authentic” is a big buzz word, what is authentic about taking something that is a signature within motorsports and using it in sailing?
Obviously, the front page story in the San Francisco Chronicle Saturday morning said all that needed to be said about the overhype that ACEA has had about projected attendance figures for Cup events. Those of us in the game a year ago knew that ACEA was spouting utter nonsense with those attendance projections. No wonder the City is now giving ACEA very justifiable pushback.
But those are small problems in the scheme of things. Currently, Grant Dalton is screaming that the Cup is not any less expensive than in the past, and is in fact 20% more expensive. Grant is also citing the fact there are only three billionaires and his team currently entered in the 2013 America’s Cup. As a part of one of the teams who a year ago took a very hard look at entering the ACWS and the America’s Cup, I have a decent idea what the costs are, and while we can debate Grant’s statements, the bigger issue than costs is the abject lack of definable media expose for potential sponsors. A year ago ACEA had no real set schedule for ACWS events, and no real media schedule. During the last year, nothing much has changed, including your assumption that broadcasters are going to line up in a bidding war for TV rights. That is not going to happen, especially in the US. If you had signed major TV broadcast partners, you’d be talking about them. Instead, we got press releases about the chef in Cascais. If you had signed major broadcast partners, it is highly likely we’d have more than the current three challengers entered.
Many people think more teams aren’t announcing their entry into the ACWS or Cup because they can’t find sponsorship money. I don’t know about other teams, but I do know about Red Maple. A year ago the issue was not finding interested and willing sponsors, the issue was being able to assure those sponsors that ACEA, meaning YOU, would come through with ACWS venues and a major media schedule. Red Maple elected to not go forward because there was no evidence you were going to perform as would have been necessary to satisfy those sponsors. Those teams who did not go forward are probably relieved they did not. Those teams that are still in the game and are hanging on by their fingernails are still waiting with bated breath for the announcement of your ACWS venues and dates, and for the TV package to be announced.
Simply put, the teams who rely on sponsorship to make it to the starting line in 2013 will not be there unless you announce ACWS venues and dates and your TV distribution package within a couple of weeks. The sooner the better. It almost does not matter what the package is, it just matters that there is something concrete to point to. For the prospective teams to obtain sponsorship there MUST be a media schedule that is actually in place. The most bizarre part about all this is that you cited ESPN2 in the ACEA Media Footprint document which was circulated last year, yet you had not made a deal with ESPN. The single thing that you could do immediately to start to reverse the trend of negative publicity that is currently besieging the America’s Cup is to make a deal with ESPN, and announce it. YouTube is amusing and all, but ESPN brings to the table the credibility that you lack, and which the America’s Cup needs, right now. The group of people who are most likely to come to San Francisco in the greatest numbers for the Louis Vuitton Cup and America’s Cup are people from the US, particularly those who are lifelong fans of the America’s Cup. Why you have essentially ignored the US market is beyond our comprehension.
Sure, there will be an America’s Cup in 2013 in San Francisco. But instead of a grand spectacle, it will be a whimper if no more than three challengers show up. Three challengers is a race, but it is not a regatta, and it is certainly not much of a show.
Right now, because of ACEA’s abject failings Golden Gate YC and the America’s Cup have a very serious credibility problem, largely because you as the Chairman of ACEA, the marketing arm for the Cup, completely over hyped and constantly under delivered on virtually every single thing you set out to do. So, the question is now: Are you just like ‘Captain Coward’ Francesco Schettino of the sunken Italian luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia, seeking refuge in a life raft that is just another ACEA spin city press release? Or, are you man enough to step up to the helm in the storm that you have driven the America’s Cup into as a result of your poor tactics, do the right thing for the Cup and the sport, and finally make some media and venue deals that sponsors can rely on so that they can agree to support teams who want to enter the 2013 America’s Cup? 
- Peter Huston.

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