America’s Cup heads roll

 

A night of the long knives, and there could be more, has seen the boss of the America's Cup Event Authority and the boss of the television output for the 161-year old event brutally sidelined as a damage limitation exercise, apparently ordered by computer software billionaire Larry Ellison, is triggered in San Francisco.

Richard Worth, imported from the world of soccer and chief executive of ACEA, has been told to concentrate on the warm-up America’s Cup World Series (ACWS) and Gary Lovejoy, from Meridian in the UK and then Eurosport, has been replaced by New Zealander Dennis Harvey as the head of what has been a big ticket television production unit.

Names not familiar to sports fans in the UK, but they follow the departure of Craig Thompson as managing director of ACEA and many other executives of an organisation that has been lavishly funded by Ellison, who won the Cup from Switzerland’s Ernesto Bertarelli in Valencia in 2010.

Ellison, who had been persuaded by Bertarelli’s former skipper Russell Coutts to pour millions into winning the sole right to challenge through the New York courts and then build a hugely expensive wing-powered trimaran, had left the organisation of the defence in San Francisco next year to Coutts.

But things have not been smooth and the ACWS has not been a financial success so far, nor has it attracted the audience it would have liked. The race programme has been slow to emerge - not all the teams will be able to contest the true America’s Cup; not all the teams have been able to stump all the contract money.

Venues have not always paid the substantial fees which the ACEA was originally seeking and, in an internationally difficult economic environment, hosting the event has been a hard sell.

Yet the costs have continued to be high. It is believed that Ellison set a cap of $400m for the defence. Much of that has been spent, but the absolute priority has always been a successful defence.

Retaining the Cup means a second chance to organise an event which has switched from big monohull yachts to faster, more dangerous television-friendly 72-foot catamarans which will race close to the San Francisco shore with the island of Alcatraz in the background.

The foot-dragging attitude of San Francisco may mean that the next America’s Cup may move out, win or lose. What is certain is that more heads will roll, despite recently announced television deals with NBC and Sky Sports.

The event moves to Naples next month and is said to have cordial relations with Italian television boss Silvio Berlusconi. But Ellison’s fearsome reputation for demanding promised performance from his executives may see more radical changes in management style over the next few weeks.  

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