But that's a separate matter from the years of organizational acrimony surrounding this event — and its deeply squandered promise. Numerous high-level city officials — the folks who got us into this — confessed to SF Weekly that they would be thrilled to see the next America's Cup held far from here, regardless of who wins.

"In the Host Venue Agreement, there's all sorts of language about defending the Cup here," says one. "I am perfectly happy to send that to the dustbin." Adds another politico, "Can you imagine this as part of a cycle? Dealing with these people" — Cup organizers — "has been so awful."

San Francisco poured millions into the event in hopes of catching crumbs off the table of a megalomaniacal billionaire. New Zealand, meanwhile, directly subsidized its yachting team with government funds, buying something akin to partial ownership of the product. These were calculated risks. Neither may pay off.

When Ellison first seized the Cup in 2010, one of his initial pronouncements was that yachting must become a state-of-the-art television experience. To his credit, he made it happen. And the San Francisco America's Cup became a reality television show.

From the beginning, the relationship between Team Ellison and San Francisco was asymmetrical. City officials — particularly Newsom, still smarting over the San Francisco 49ers decamping south rather than acquiescing to his demands to erect a stadium atop a radioactive Superfund site — were tantalized by the vision of 15 or more yachting syndicates pumping $368 million into the local economy. The America's Cup impact report produced by Beacon Economics and the Bay Area Council Economic Institute foresaw a $1.4 billion boon, generating 8,840 "jobs," and catering to upwards of 2.6 million visitors.

With the benefit of hindsight, these numbers appear to have oozed out of a fever dream. Despite their increasing divergence from reality, they were, for years, dutifully regurgitated by San Francisco political leaders. Supervisor David Chiu printed them on his mayoral campaign fliers. Mayor Ed Lee, as recently as last year, was still saying he expected 500,000 visitors a day — 10 times more than actually showed up for key weekend races in lovely weather. Lee also dutifully disgorged the 8,840 jobs figure, despite the fact that more than a quarter of those jobs were to have been spawned by the 15 sailing syndicates — and either ignoring or not comprehending that the report measured "work" being generated, not the "jobs" required to do it.

So, that's what floated San Francisco's boat. Team Ellison, however, was fixated on San Francisco for other reasons. The bay's winds are comparatively predictable: "They turn on every day at noon," quips former America's Cup sailor Bob "Buddha" Billingham. Reliable wind is a must for the made-for-TV Cup. And, for the first televised, near-shore regatta, it was important the shore be telegenic. "The cameras love San Francisco," says international sailor and author Kimball Livingston. "There's no better place to film."

The city was merely required to serve as municipal arm candy and look pretty in the background — a task it filled most ably. In the foreground, meanwhile, amazing new boats were conceived to wow the TV viewer weaned on NASCAR collisions and skull-splitting NFL action. The AC72 catamarans developed for the made-for-TV Cup are as tall as a 13-story building and move at freeway speeds. Their imposing, futuristic appearance leaves one wondering if they'll transform into a robot; in a sense, they already have. The bionic vessels are larded with cameras, sensors, and high-tech gadgetry providing unprecedented access to the television viewer — or anyone who downloads the America's Cup iPad app. "They are stunning. I feel privileged to have experienced them," says Stan Honey, the technological wizard behind the glowing football first-down marker — who, backed with boatloads of Ellison dollars, devised the scintillating graphics transforming the billionaire's dream into televised reality. "Part of the story on TV is the spectacular look of these boats."

So, the made-for-TV AC72s made the made-for-TV Cup. But they unmade it as well.

The boats are, as Team Artemis can attest, mercurial and dangerous. Distraught crewmembers described them to The New Zealand Herald as "God-forsaken deathtraps."

These deathtraps don't come cheap: Artemis sank upwards of $100 million into the vessel it raced only a handful of times. As recently as three months ago, says sailing expert and consultant Norman Davant, Oracle design executive Dirk Kramers told him its boat could not rise up on its foils while traveling upwind. This month, it regularly foiled upwind at speeds exceeding 30 knots. Actually, the boats weren't designed to foil at all — yet the Kiwis figured out a way to do it, and everyone was forced to follow suit. Crucially, over the course of one September week, strategic and material tweaks Oracle made to its vessel in the finals transformed it from a hopeless also-ran to, far and away, the best boat on the bay.

The AC72s are the bumblebees of the nautical world; they seem to be sailing beyond their designed abilities. They are as mysterious as they are fast. Pouring more than $100 million into such an amorphous and volatile toy is not for everyone. In fact, it's for hardly anyone. A great and terrible boat with a price tag to match worked for Ellison. But it did not work for San Francisco.

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10 comments
Buylo
Buylo

Events such as these has become a huge marketing opportunity for all companies alike, from big brand names to online shops. It definitely has its perks and cons though. At least the sport is growing, which is always good

szcondon1
szcondon1

Cheers to Oracle Team USA and their outrageous prowess and comeback to win the America's Cup. No sense crying over spilled almond milk. What's done is done. Monies lost or earned, this was a great sporting event. I attended almost all of the LV Cup, Red Bull Jrs. AC, and the AC races from both the Marina Green and AC Pavilion venues. I had a blast and enjoyed spending money for overpriced champagne and Oracle clothing. I even scored three bleacher seats from Andy, one of the sportscasters, for being interviewed on AC TV. I took friends and family there. I'd do it again in a heartbeat even knowing this information presented in your article. SF is a great city, a top travel destination in the world according to Condé Nast Magazine. We will recover. Now that we know some of the errors made by our left-leaning politicians, we can hopefully correct those errors. Hip-Hip-Hooray to Oracle Team USA!

Bigg Shelf
Bigg Shelf

I cant stand a cheat or a thief...they have NO integrity.....teach your kids that. Team Oracle

Natalie Jarman
Natalie Jarman

Ok, even as a San Francisco native born and bred, I personally was rooting for the Kiwis. The shyster evil Ellison antics all play out like a telenovella or Shakespeare play,despicable and embarrassing, greed ridden in a city that presumably was all about the independent spirit and frightfully has bought into nothing but complete corporate saturation. BUT in the end give the sailors credit, they did win even after penalized, a lot can be learned after this mad/sad experiment but let's celebrate for our city that this tragedy had actually turned around and become a moralistic tale that we all can learn from.

Dina Becerra
Dina Becerra

How does a team stay in the race, let alone win it if they were caught cheating? I know they were penalized two points but it seems weird for a sport to allow cheating.

aliasetc
aliasetc topcommenter

Fuck Larry Ellison scumbag cheating motherfucker

mblaircheney
mblaircheney topcommenter

Required reading for anyone with an interest in America's Cup.

I am an ardent supporter of the races on San Francisco Bay, I believe we are seeing history take shape before our very eyes... but Joe steadfastly shows an objectivity to the event and takes it apart piece by piece.

Surprisingly, his description of the mechanics of the sailboats on the water, are better than those who write as Cup cheerleaders. Without a doubt there is a keen understanding of the achievement... but... not allowing it to blind him to the overwhelming problems.

Others have questioned the event, no one has nailed it like this.

Normally I try to counter when I hear any negative thoughts on the races... Point taken.

aliasetc
aliasetc topcommenter

Great article, but Larry is still an asshole scumbag and Gavin Nosense is another asshole, and Ed Lee is an incompetent pimp trying to hustle the City.

A question, since most of the sailers on both boats are Kewis, could the races been fixed from the get go? Larry can buy off anyone no matter what the prie!

 
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