Later this month, we will know which Team has won the Auld Mug.
One man who knows a thing or two about the America’s Cup is Ben Ainslie, who was largely responsible for Team Oracle’s victory last time round. Here, he gives his thought’s on where the competition stands.
“Continual change and technical development are part of the America’s Cup, it’s part of it’s DNA and it is critical we maintain that.” So says Land Rover BAR Team Principal and Skipper Sir Ben Ainslie, talking about the importance of innovation in the America’s Cup.
Innovation has always been a key component of the competition for the oldest trophy in international sport, but now the revolution that has been taking place in the sport is about to enjoy the focus of the world’s attention as the 35th America’s Cup starts on 26th May in Bermuda.
Innovation can be seen in the America’s Cup Class (ACC) boats that will be raced in May and June 2017, but they are part of the revolution that will see the fastest boats in the history of the America’s Cup taking on another at speeds close to 50 knots in 2017. From the 101 foot monohull schooner which lifted the first Auld Mug in 1851, today’s ACC catamarans with their carbon fibre hulls, rigid wingsail, foiling capabilities and innovative computing and hydraulic systems are more akin to an F1 car than a boat, albeit one with the capability of flying above the water!
While Ainslie, a self-confessed traditionalist at heart, sees the beauty and importance of the boats of old, he is well aware that the America’s Cup revolution is essential for the continued progression of the competition itself. “I think the tradition, prestige and history of the America’s Cup is what makes it so special,” added the most successful sailor in Olympic history. “I’m a traditionalist at heart, I love the monohull sailing race boats but for me it is absolutely clear that this is the most exciting America’s Cup Class boat we’ve ever had. They are incredible boats to sail, extremely exciting, physical, and tense and make for great spectating live or on the TV. It is the right direction for the America’s Cup to be going in.”
That focus on audience and spectators has also brought about much change to the set-up of the spectacle and the event itself. From the off-shore races of the past, a shift has been made to stadium-style racing over an inshore course designed specifically to allow fans watching live to see the action as close up as possible, and to create a package that it much more appealing to TV viewers, whatever their level of sailing knowledge. The races now are run on tightly controlled, spectacular arenas, with short, sharp races helping audience numbers to climb into the millions on TV and hundreds of millions more worldwide in the digital sphere.
And it is a move that has gained the approval of Team CEO and Skipper of SoftBank Team Japan Dean Barker. “If you don’t have change you can get stale and people tune out,” said the New Zealand native ahead of his sixth America’s Cup. “The America’s Cup has always been about innovation and trying to keep pushing the boundaries to try and find the limits. We have moved from the traditional view of a two to three hour race miles out to sea that no one could watch, to something that is more of a grandstand sport. We are bringing it back to the people and providing a race with plenty
of excitement and a bigger audience than we’ve ever seen before.”
The America’s Cup revolution over recent years has helped generate substantially more audience numbers for the sport, but has also helped the America’s Cup move towards a more sustainable future and leaving a lasting legacy for generations to come, something of upmost importance to
Artemis Racing Skipper and Helmsman Nathan Outteridge.
“People who have followed the America’s Cup loved the tradition of the Cup and can relate to the Cup of their generation – that’s their beloved Cup,” said the Australian Olympic gold medallist. “However, as life is developing and the world is changing the America’s Cup has been evolving with it. I can understand how fans struggle with each change but each change brings a new audience and a new generation into it. What is exciting about the current America’s Cup is the amount of kids involved and inspiring them into the America’s Cup.”
So what of the future of the competition?
“Quite where it goes in 10 years, who knows,” added Ainslie. “But that is what is exciting about the America’s Cup!”