SAN DIEGO — America’s Cup officials have reduced the prospective venues for the next regatta from four to three, and it appears San Francisco has been eliminated.
Russell Coutts, the CEO of two-time defending champion Oracle Team USA, told The Associated Press that one venue has been eliminated, and that he plans to reduce the field to two by the end of June.
Coutts wouldn’t confirm which city is out. But it’s been known for months that San Francisco — the hometown of Oracle Team USA — hasn’t offered terms as attractive as those offered by San Diego, Bermuda and Chicago to host the final rounds of the 2017 regatta.
Officials in San Francisco didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Bob Nelson, the Chairman of the board of commissioners at the Unified Port of San Diego, confirmed that his city’s bid has advanced.
“This evening the Port of San Diego received written word from the America’s Cup Event Authority that the field has been narrowed to three and that San Diego is among those three,” Nelson told The AP. “We’re very excited to hear this. There’s a lot of hard work ahead to try to secure this race in a way that benefits the people of our region and also advances the interest of the sport.”
Although the 2013 America’s Cup was troubled in many ways, racing on San Francisco Bay was spectacular, with the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz bordering the first inshore race course in the regatta’s long history.
Oracle Team USA, owned by software billionaire Larry Ellison and backed by the Golden Gate Yacht Club, staged one of the greatest comebacks in sports to beat Emirates Team New Zealand and retain the oldest trophy in international sports.
But America’s Cup officials have been unhappy that San Francisco officials aren’t offering the same terms as last year, including free rent for piers as well as police, fire and other services. Cup officials also are opposed to paying the equivalent of union wages for construction work.
While last summer’s regatta gave the staid old America’s Cup a remarkable adrenaline rush, it generated less economic impact in the Bay Area than projected and cost city taxpayers more than $5 million.
A contingent of civic and sailing leaders in San Francisco hopes the city would remain in contention if the bids by the other potential venues fail.
San Francisco probably has the best sailing conditions, but Coutts has made it clear that commercial considerations are important for the next America’s Cup.
San Diego is believed to be in a strong position, with its bid receiving broad political support ranging from new Mayor Kevin Faulconer to the port. If it is selected, racing would be on the bay rather than miles offshore on the Pacific Ocean when San Diego hosted the America’s Cup in 1988, 1992 and 1995.
If Bermuda is chosen, it could be a controversial decision. It would be the first time a U.S. defender held the America’s Cup outside the United States.
Bermuda is a British territory in the Atlantic Ocean located some 640 miles off North Carolina. The only time the America’s Cup has been held outside the country of the winning yacht club was in 2007 and 2010, when champion Alinghi of Switzerland held it in Valencia, Spain. Switzerland has no ocean coastline and it wasn’t practical to hold the racing on Lake Geneva.
It’s believed that Bermuda’s bid contains an income tax break for those participating in the America’s Cup, similar to what Valencia offered.
Bermuda is closer to Europe than the other potential venues, an important consideration for TV and potential sponsors. Olympic star Ben Ainslie is launching a British campaign Tuesday in London, and other entries are expected from Italy, Sweden and possibly France. The America’s Cup began in 1851 when the schooner America beat a fleet of British ships around the Isle of Wight.
Chicago remains a mystery candidate. Neither side has commented due to confidentiality agreements, but it’s believed that avid sailor Donald Wilson, who founded DRW Trading Group in Chicago in 1992, has a hand in the Windy City’s bid.
Wilson also founded the Chicago Match Race Center. Chicago could end up hosting a stop on the America’s Cup World Series, a prelude to the elimination rounds.
San Diego, Bermuda and Chicago are vying to host the challenger semifinals and finals, and the America’s Cup match. Earlier rounds would be held elsewhere in the world at venues still to be decided.
(BERNIE WILSON, AP Sports Writer)