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Larry Ellison revamps America’s Cup

May 6, 2010

by Guy Dinmore in Rome

Published: May 6 2010

Larry Ellison, billionaire founder of software group Oracle and winner of this year’s America’s Cup, on Thursday launched a makeover of the world’s oldest sporting trophy to model the elite yachting series more along the lines of Formula One motor racing.

Russell Coutts

Russell Coutts, the world’s most successful professional skipper who has won the cup four times, laid out Mr Ellison’s plans at a Rome press conference held jointly with Vincenzo Onorato, an Italian racer and ferry line owner.

Mr Onorato spoke as the Challenger of Record representing teams planning to contest the right to race against the American billionaire for the 162-year-old trophy.

The establishment of a single class of boat and an independent international jury will hopefully avoid the three years of complex and tedious court battles that marred the last series bitterly contested by the previous defender, Ernesto Bertarelli, a Swiss biotechnology tycoon, and Mr Ellison’s BMW Oracle team over two races off Valencia in Spain.

Details have yet to be worked out with the challengers – possibly six to eight teams – but will include annual regattas as well as qualifying races in various venues with the emphasis on winning greater television audiences, more marketing and making the series commercially viable. Lengths of races will even be tailored to fit “optimum television time”, Mr Coutts said.

Organisers suggested this would see a return to the Americas Cup fold of Louis Vuitton, the luxury goods maker that had been a long-time partner in the events but had been marginalised by Mr Bertarelli’s narrower and controversial vision for this year’s prize, which ended up in a one-to-one race against Mr Ellison. Other challengers were left out of the picture.

“Diktat has been replaced by discussion, confrontation by consultation,” Mr Coutts said, stressing Mr Ellison’s collegial approach to cooperating with potential challengers even at the expense of the losing some of his privileges as the cup’s defender. He did, however, underline Mr Ellison’s controversial intention to race against the challengers at the annual regattas, a development seen by rivals as giving him an unfair advantage.

“Formula One is one model,” Mr Coutts told the Financial Times. “It will be a dramatically different product.” He said the cup should not be seen as an “arms race” and stressed the need for cost-cutting. Mr Ellison is reported to have spent some $100m (£66.78m, €78.69m) winning the cup this year.

Mr Ellison prefers the final series of the 34th America Cup races to be held in San Francisco, home of his Golden Gate Yacht Club, but venues and timing have yet to be agreed. A protocol of rules could be announced in August, rules on the class of boat – whether mono- or multi-hull – by September and a deadline for challengers to register by next January. The final series would be held in 2013 or 2014.

Mr Ellison was also said to be open to holding a series of regattas pitting his boat against other American teams vying for the right to defend the trophy.

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