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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

America's Cup Reportedly Sailing Out of San Francisco

Posted By on Tue, Jun 10, 2014 at 2:20 PM

click to enlarge Out of sight, out of mind... - EVAN DU CHARME
  • Evan Du Charme
  • Out of sight, out of mind...

The word on the winds today is that San Francisco is out as a potential venue for the 35th America's Cup in 2017

City and Port officials we spoke to were unable to confirm this news. But it hardly comes as a surprise. After years of rosy predictions and glib assurances, San Francisco lost $11.5 million hosting a billionaires' regatta. San Francisco's hotel occupancy rate during last year's three-month sailing extravaganza barely grew from the prior year's totals. The optimistic head count of America's Cup visitors was hardly strictly higher than the number of folks who straggled into town for Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. 

The amazing television presentation of the races won a much-deserved Emmy, and "home team" Oracle executed one of the great comebacks in sporting history. But the event, like so many America's Cup races, was lost before the boats even hit the water. 

San Francisco oversold the event, overpromised its worth, and was overgenerous in its giveaways to yachting billionaire Larry Ellison. The city "made it clear that if they wanted to be here for another go, they'd have to do things differently," says one government official. "But they obviously like doing things their own way." 

And now the city writ large can tell Ellison et al. not to let the hatch hit him on the ass as he sails out of town. 

Our silver lining: This all could have been much, much worse. 


Early versions of the America's Cup deal pushed -- emphatically -- by erstwhile Mayor Gavin Newsom would have resulted in a nine-figure loss to the city and the ceding of large portions of the central and northern waterfronts to Ellison-controlled entities. This pact could have left the city reimbursing Ellison and his heirs for development undertaken on rent-free land into the 22nd century. 

Team Ellison purportedly pulled out of this deal at the last minute; city officials tell us the votes were there for the Board of Supervisors to approve the $136 million contract. But for the unilateral actions of Ellison, the city could have been in hock to him for another century. 

The Cup, it turns out, was a victim of its own majesty. The towering, tantalizing, and, sadly, incredibly dangerous AC-72 yachts made for great television. This is what they were designed to do. 

Designing them was also really expensive. So was building them, and owning them. The boats were so costly that hardly any entrants could afford to pony up and participate in the race. As a result, of a proposed 15 or more teams, only four showed up. With fewer teams came fewer fans -- and, until the finals -- lopsided, dull racing. 

Finally, the private fundraisers tasked with offsetting the Cup's infrastructure costs were only required to "endeavor" to raise the money -- not actually do it. That's what led to the city taking a $11.5 million bath. Amazingly, it turned out to be difficult to fund-raise for a billionaires' regatta, especially when Ellison declined to throw in even a little starter money. 

But, if those reports are true, that's all someone else's problem now. Bermuda -- home of ghastly shorts and tax breaks -- San Diego, and Chicago (!) appear to be the front-runners now. 

"Bermuda?" queried former supervisor Aaron Peskin, one of the foremost San Francisco Cup critics. "Like 'Bermuda Triangle' Bermuda?" He let that one sink in. "All I can say is 'caveat emptor.'" 

Meanwhile, with lessons learned overpromising, overcompensating, and, eventually, underperforming on the America's Cup, San Francisco can now turn its eyes toward hosting the Super Bowl

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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