The needs of the billionaire and the city diverged.

The city suffered.

The America's Cup is one of the least egalitarian sporting competitions on the planet. The winners choose the host venues and craft the rules to suit themselves, and wealthy syndicate-owners can, intuitively, buy better boats. The sums thrown around by Ellison and his billionaire cohorts are a shade greater than those expended in the past. The ceiling has been raised, just a bit. "But the floor has come up! They didn't anticipate the boats would be so crazy," explains Davant. "The boats have become so sophisticated, there's no way a small-time team can get involved via a $20 million campaign." So, the dozens of free-spending syndicates promised by the economic impact report and its acolytes saved their money and stayed home. So did their fans. Cup organizers' head counts put actual attendance at around one-third the predicted numbers.

If more modest boats had been designated for the Cup, "it would have been a smash hit," says Richard Spindler, the founder and publisher of sailing magazine Latitude 38. "You'd have had to chase entries away. Lack of participation and competition were problems one, two, and three."

Such boats wouldn't have crumbled on the bay in routine conditions. And they wouldn't have required the resultant strict wind limits, which nixed numerous America's Cup races. Three races were abandoned with New Zealand leading, and the delays drew out the event interminably — casting a shadow of farce upon one of sports' most astonishing comebacks. (Those delays did, however, aid the city's bottom-line by forcing yachting fans and media to stick around).

The enthralling racing between Oracle and New Zealand, then, was bittersweet. It was a reminder of what could have been.

The finals, by definition, feature only two boats. So, San Francisco forfeited the opportunity to truly profit from a viable event when a paltry three challengers showed up for the preliminary races: New Zealand, the doomed Swedish Artemis team, and the hapless Luna Rossa from Italy. Artemis' disaster and Luna Rossa's preening boycotts led to the surreal spectacle of boats forced to race against themselves, and its near equivalent: New Zealand winning by lopsided margins in torpid affairs marred by mechanical failures.

Speedy, massive, and menacing boats fed Ellison's dream of a high-octane televised extravaganza. Even as they starved the city.

Until their victory parade hit an epic pothole, Kiwis soaking in the America's Cup had been kicking San Francisco's ass with a smile — and the city was thanking them for it.

"It's weird, isn't it?" confesses a New Zealand government apparatchik. "[Americans] I meet here tell me 'we're winning.'" — aligning themselves with the Kiwi underdogs. At least for a while, perhaps everyone liked a plucky winner. It was obvious whom most folks didn't take a shine to.

Larry Ellison's ranking on lists of the world's richest men would be interchangeable with his spot on compendiums of the world's least-likable men. He loomed over this America's Cup like Darth Vader. Ellison defenders point to the incredible money and effort he poured into developing his beloved sport and creating spectacular TV coverage. A fair point. But Vader likely poured incredible money and effort into the Death Star.

People cheered when that blew up, too.

San Francisco is a company town; people argue about Apples or PCs here in the same way folks in other parts of the country draw lines regarding Chevy or Ford pickups. But it's asking a lot for locals to root for a corporation instead of a country — especially after an agonizing years-long organizational process was capped by Oracle being nailed in a cheating scandal in which sailors and crew members conspired to illegally modify boats in a 2012 regatta. In a sport where the winners already get to dictate the rules, Oracle had to go further.

So, the knee-jerk backlash against an oligarch — especially from the city's left-leaning establishment — was understandable. But it came off as more than a tad naïve: In a move no American lefty would endorse, the Kiwis directly subsidized their yachting team to the tune of 36 million New Zealand dollars ($30.1 million American). Considering the relative gross domestic products of the United States and New Zealand, a comparable federal handout to American yachting would be $3.4 billion.

For the New Zealand government, this was a massive bet on winning the Cup, spiriting it back to Auckland, and profiting handsomely through hosting the next regatta. That investment also provided the leverage to allow more than 180 Kiwi businesses to gallivant through San Francisco in a networking free-for-all ("a lotta Kiwi beer and a lotta Kiwi tech.").

Because the prohibitive expense of the AC72s scared off other syndicates, Kiwi government and business schmoozers didn't have to compete against their Australian, Korean, Chinese, or French counterparts. And, when showcasing "a lotta Kiwi tech," they were able to start with those amazing, telegenic boats. Three of the four crafts were largely or entirely constructed in New Zealand — Ellison owns one of the major New Zealand fabricators. (Left unsaid — but hardly unstated — was that the fourth boat, built entirely in Europe, collapsed in a lethal wreck.)

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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


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 topcommenter

Fuck Larry Ellison scumbag cheating motherfucker

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 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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