The America's Cup is the Super Bowl of yacht racing -- but it's certainly not the Super Bowl of television rights fees.
Networks fork over billions for the privilege of airing pro sports like football and their lucrative postseason championships. Yet, tucked away in today's AP story about NBC obtaining the rights to broadcast the forthcoming America's Cup was this interesting line:
NBC Sports Group is not paying a rights fee.... America's Cup
officials will acquire air time and offer commercial time first to their
Stephen Barclay, the chief operating officer of the America's Cup Event Authority, tells SF Weekly this was no misprint. Not only is NBC getting the rights to the Cup for free, race organizers must buy airtime.
What's more, Barclay continues, Cup organizers are investing far more than ever before in making yachting a television-friendly sport. As the equation stands, the Cup stands to lose a boatload of money in the short-term.
Yet that was the plan, Barclay says.
"We're trying to bring sailing to a much wider audience. One of the ways to achieve that is to make the television product much more exciting," he says. "We're investing for the future. The reason the NBC deal is so important is, for 20 years, [the America's Cup] hasn't been on national broadcast TV in America. Anyone can watch the races now."
In other words, while broadcasting America's Cup racing is a "cost center" now, maybe in the years to come it will be a "profit center."
While NBC isn't paying a cent in fees to broadcast the competition, Barclay says broadcasters hailing from other parts of the globe are. He anticipates amassing a total "not dramatically different" from the rights fees the Cup received in 2007 -- $12 million, per Barclay.
Televising the race was a money-loser then, however -- and that's without the aforementioned beefing up of the technology budget. In order to feature graphics designed by the same company that brought you the virtual down marker for football games, the Cup will have to shell out for helicopters to hover over the bay, and expensive technology to stock them with. The massive catamarans will be wired up with 14 microphones and four cameras apiece. When asked the budget for TV-related gadgetry, Barclay would only answer "a lot."
Race organizers and city and port officials, meanwhile, continue to hammer out the terms of the America's Cup deal following the implosion of the prior pact earlier this week. SF Weekly noted earlier that slow sponsorship sales may have induced the Event Authority to pull the plug on investing an estimated $80 million in pre-race fixes in Piers 30-32. Certainly there was no TV money rolling in, either.
The mixture of 14 microphones and hard-to-control, outrageously fast boats may induce another problem -- all the world will now be able to hear the yacht crews literally curse like sailors. "The sailors' language is a little colorful," admits Barclay. "We'll have to train them."
A bar of soap costs a dollar at Walgreens. That may be the cheapest fix of all.
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