Russell Coutts: 6 things I've learned from America’s Cup World Series

The crowds have turned out in force

With less than a year to go until the 35th America’s Cup gets underway in Bermuda, Boat International caught up with five-time winner and CEO of the America’s Cup Event Authority Sir Russell Coutts to find out what he has learned from the World Series so far.

I think we have all been surprised by the growth. The last three events alone have seen more than 500,000 spectators on site. If somebody had of said that to me prior to this year, that in three World Series events you’d get 500,000 spectators, I would have said: ‘No, we are not going to achieve that, that is years away!’

We have got a brand that is now attracting large audiences. We are pleased with that result and all of the partners involved have been pleased with that outcome. We are all enthusiastic about the future prospects of the America’s Cup.

It gives us more confidence to go to other new venues and develop the same model. I am not saying there isn’t a lot of work to be done yet to make it better, absolutely there are plenty of things that can be done to make it better, but you can’t help but be impressed by everyone that is involved and looking on.

Photo: Ian Roman / Team Origin

Big personalities are driving the sport

In the UK, Ben Ainslie has been a major factor. We have been trying to develop the America’s Cup personalities for some years; it’s our primary focus. You see the impact of that in the UK when you have got a figure like that as the team leader.

At this year's America's Cup World Series Portsmouth we had around 130,000 fans watching on site, but we had more fans than that in New York and Chicago. So it is not just the Ben Ainslie factor, but certainly that’s a major positive. We would like to develop other personalities in other parts of the world as well.

Photo: Ricardo Pinto / ACEA

TV audiences are switching on

The World Series has definitely helped us to grow a television audience. The media partners like the product now because it’s television formatted. In other words people can sit down and watch a complete race.

We used to be very much a highlights product — you would cut and paste various happenings around the course because the racing frankly was not TV friendly. It is now. People can turn on the screen, whether that is a computer screen or a television screen, and watch and follow an entire race.

I think that has been an important sort of move in the last few years to get to that point. The broadcasters like the product, it is delivered to a high quality and both sailing fans and non-sailing fans can watch and enjoy.

We just did our first trial on Facebook recently and we had really, really good success with that. It was only made available in Germany, because of our broadcast contracts, but it was a little pointer as to what can be achieved in the future.

Photo: Youtube / Sperry

The sailors are now serious athletes

There were always some athletes on board during the America’s Cup World Series, but these days it is actually the whole boat. Even the way they dress these days is clearly different. I think we can do a lot more to bring out that element out on television. For example, we could start to transmit some of the heart rate data generated by the athletes or the power they are generating on the grinders.

Those are the things that people are interested in and we have the capability to bring that out in the TV product in the future.

Photo: Sam Greenfield / Oracle Team USA

Every team has a real chance of winning

If we have a situation like we had in past America’s Cups where one or two teams are dominating, that kills interest pretty quickly. Today all of our teams are competitive. At least five or the six teams have a chance of winning this, which is a fantastic position for the America’s Cup to be in. It’s that unpredictability and uncertainty that drives interest in sport.

If we know that a certain team is going to win an event there is not a lot of interest in following it. But if that’s unknown and you are waiting to see what the outcome is, that’s when people switch on to see what is going to happen. It is shaping up to be a very, very close America’s Cup. That’s great for the sport and that’s what it needs for the future.

Photo: Ricardo Pinto / ACEA

More teams want to get involved

The America’s Cup needs more teams and more representation across the globe. More teams from Asia and more teams from some of the European countries, like Germany for example, would be fantastic. But they need to be competitive teams. We don’t want teams coming in that are going to be finishing at the back of the fleet. The ideal situation would be to have teams coming in from Germany, Italy, China and Australia, for example, that are real competitors, that are winning regattas, that are capable of winning the America’s Cup. That is what you really want.

It has been a key focus to bring costs and complexity down, so that we can have new teams coming in and being really competitive. In the past that cost barrier has been massive, now I think the costs are definitely achievable for a lot of the key teams. We are seeing interest from a lot of these new countries about coming into the event.

In the past it has been a long process to develop the technology because you weren't allowed to co-operate with other competitors. Now that you can collaborate, new teams can come in and be competitive almost straight away. Those are the factors that I think will be the game changers in the future.

Photo: Ricardo Pinto / ACEA

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