Carlo Borlenghi /

America's Cup grey areas

Bruno Trouble discusses Louis Vuitton's involvement

Tuesday May 18th 2010, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

Now that the America’s Cup dice is being rolled once again, this time by Russell Coutts and Larry Ellison with the participation of the challengers, there remains a number of grey areas to be resolved.

One of the potentially awkward pieces of negotiation to be done is with Louis Vuitton. On the one hand the French luxury luggage manufacturer has been involved with the America’s Cup since 1983 when it first sponsored the challenger selection series in Newport, RI and has been involved with every challenger selection series since. As charismatic spokesman for Louis Vuitton, Bruno Troublé, himself a former helmsman on Baron Bic’s 12m challengers in 1977 and 1980, and traditionally the driving force behind the Louis Vuitton Cup rightly points out: “Vuitton has done so much for the America’s Cup. The America’s Cup is what it is now because of Vuitton.” Certainly the company has helped bring glamour to the event.

But on the other hand is Louis Vuitton the de facto backer of the challenger selection series or do Coutts and his colleagues dare speak to other potential sponsors about this role? For the 32nd America’s Cup Alinghi and ACM clearly weren’t bothered about Louis Vuitton’s historic role and their past contribution to the event. Having run the press centre for previous Louis Vuitton Cups, for the 32nd America’s Cup in Valencia, with Alinghi and ACM in charge, Louis Vuitton were sidelined, their role becoming one purely of sponsor, something that incensed Troublé at the time. “We worked so much over the last 25 years towards the success of the Cup and we were co-organisers, in 2007 we were just paying cheques,” as he succinctly puts it, relieved that that era is now over.

For the 34th America’s Cup, Louis Vuitton and Troublé are back at the heart of matters. It was they, with Emirates Team New Zealand boss Grant Dalton that created the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series, held for the struggling challengers-in-waiting as the 33rd America’s Cup was in mid-hiatus at the beginning of 2009. This has since developed into the Louis Vuitton Trophy with a second event held last autumn in Nice before returning to Auckland earlier this year. The next event is imminent, to be held in La Maddelena, a small island off northeast Sardinia starting on 22 May and will be followed by confirmed events in Dubai in November and Hong Kong in January. There are rumours of an additional Louis Vuitton Trophy event to be held in BMW Oracle Racing’s homeport of San Francisco late this summer, with other ports in the bidding process for future events including San Diego, Newport, Sochi (in Russia) and with the hopes of bringing it to the UK too.

In the spring of 2009, Louis Vuitton was also integral in the establishment of the World Sailing Team Association, the organising body behind the Louis Vuitton Trophy with Emirates Team New Zealand and BMW Oracle Racing.

At present the contract between Louis Vuitton and the WSTA runs until the end of 2011 and what is on the table at the moment is LV continuing to support future WSTA events from 2012 until whenever the 34th America’s Cup might be – most probably 2014. However as indicated in our recent interview with Russell Coutts, these events are going to become a much more vital part of the build-up to the 34th America’s Cup than the Acts were leading into the 32nd. Before the latter the highest placed boats in the Acts gained a small seeding and points advantage going into the first challenger selection series round robin. This time the equivalent events look set to determine whether the weaker challengers live or die.

As Russell Coutts pointed out in Rome week before last, it is likely that the final challenger selection series will only be open to a smaller number of boats than in the past (the thinking is somewhere in the six to 10 range) and while the argument is ostensibly that this will improve the quality of the competition, it has more to do with there being insufficient waterfront space in San Francisco to house a large number of team bases as we became used to in Valencia's Port America's Cup. So if, for example, challenger numbers were approaching 20 (as was the case when Alinghi were planning their multi-challenger 33rd America’s Cup), then potentially half of the challengers might not make it to the final venue. In our opinion this would be a shame, because aside from the close racing one of the highlights of previous Louis Vuitton Cups has been those rare moments when the smaller teams have beaten the bigger ones, the David and Goliath matches.

So as it is stacking up at present the Louis Vuitton Trophy, if it is still called that post 2011, will be vital over 2012 and 2013 for it will the culling process heading into a scaled down challenger selection series. And challengers will have to get moving for while the Cup itself may not be until 2014, according to Troublé points going towards the challenger selection series could begin to count as early as 2012.

“We are running the Trophy and it is clear that the Louis Vuitton Trophy is part of the whole process for the next America’s Cup,” states Troublé of their involvement. “Whether the Louis Vuitton Trophy will become the Louis Vuitton Cup is another question - there is a lot of discussion over budgets and dates, etc. In 2013 Vuitton would like to celebrate 30 years in the America’s Cup – which is the longest association in sport.”

Troublé says that, while they would like to celebrate 30 years of involvement with the America’s Cup in 2013, no final decision is likely to be made by Louis Vuitton as to whether they will definitely go ahead until the end of this year when the venue and dates of the 34th America’s Cup are known.

Meanwhile negotiations are underway between Troublé/Louis Vuitton, BMW Oracle Racing and the WSTA, with Troublé once again gunning for Louis Vuitton to have a deeper involvement in the running of the challenger selection series than merely, as he says, writing cheques. “We want to have a role in the America’s Cup like running the press or the television or whatever,” he says.

One of the issues also being discussed by the WSTA is over what boats they will race in for the 2011 season. At present the events are making do with more evenly matched version 5 boats, but this isn’t entirely satisfactory and there has been talk of building four new identical boats. “We might as WSTA build four boats to the new rule to be used for the Louis Vuitton Trophy series before they are built by the teams. Again it is an idea,” says Troublé. These could be the prototypes, a showcase for the new America’s Cup class, but the time frame for this to succeed is extremely tight with the rule expected to be published in September this year. This proceeding would be only worthwhile if the new boats could be launched next spring and used throughout 2011 before the Cup teams launched their own first generation boats in the autumn of 2011.

The role of the WSTA going into the 34th America’s Cup also seems unclear. In one way it could work as the mouthpiece of the challengers, except that the defender, Golden Gate Yacht Club/BMW Oracle Racing, is one of its original stakeholders.

Troublé hopes that the WSTA will emerge as the organising authority, the ACM equivalent for the 34th America’s Cup.

“At the moment we were part of the birth of the WSTA because we came up also with the idea and the idea of the format, so we have a very good relationship with them,” says Troublé. “The WSTA might be the organising body, so Louis Vuitton will not be far away. At this moment, I don’t disclose anything, but Paul Cayard [as head of the WSTA] is talking to Russell about the WSTA being the organising body.”

However we were led to believe that in the original Coutts-Cayard vision of how future America’s Cups should be managed, that the structure would comprise an overseeing body, including the defender, some challenger representation and past trustees as well as some commercial respectives advising about the media, rights, etc to protect the America’s Cup effectively as its Board of Trustees, and it would be they who would appoint an executive, an ACM equivalent, to run the America’s Cup event itself. It will be interesting to see in what form this comes to pass.

Troublé believes independent management is essential. “To see the defender firing the gun of the challenger selection series or the America’s Cup itself, is weird, it is not fair. So that is a key decision. And we have learned that the defender(s) will not sail in the challenger process, which is very important.”

Troublé believes, what most suspect, that the new boat for the America’s Cup will be a light displacement monohull rather than a multihull. He also hopes the nationality rule will be restored to some extent for the teams. “The Deed of Gift says the America’s Cup is a ‘friendly competition between nations’. So I would like them to decide that one third or one half of the crew would be from the challenging country. You would have to put a clause like birth or 20 years in the country.”


Latest Comments

  • KingMonkey 18/05/2010 - 13:59

    I continue to find most of what Trouble says about the cup troubling. At least he doesn't go back into his usual diatribe about making the boats deliberately slow in this article. Surely the whole idea of independent management is taking away control of the event from one entity and spreading it across a committee of varied interests: defender, challenger, past winners and expert representatives voted in by the first three. What Trouble constantly bangs on about is one commercial entity - in this case LVMH - having control of the challenger series. Of course sponsors must be looked after carefully and the sports and teams which they put money into must ensure they make a return on their investment. But Trouble's comments that LVMH has somehow input funds into the AC out of some greater philanthropic calling are absurd. They've made tons and tons of cash out of it: that's why it's the "oldest association in sport". Qantas sponsored this year's Australian Grand Prix but to my knowledge had minimal input in making up the rules. As far as I am concerned - in any case - it would be a sign of an America's Cup in much better health if it was capable of selling jeans or strawberry milkshakes rather than over-priced handbags and posh booze, but I appreciate there are those who see sailing's "exclusivity" as a good thing rather than an embarrassing global failure of the sport!
  • Chr1s 18/05/2010 - 10:48

    If the nationality definition is birth, at least you can only have one. But then it would be tough on someone who was born on holiday abroad! if you start allowing parents' and grandparents' countries of birth, let alone nationalised citizens, then you start losing the point.

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