Ian Roman Photography / www.ianroman.com

America's Cup World Series comes to Portsmouth

Event Director Leslie Greenhalgh gets down to the minutae

Thursday November 27th 2014, Author: James Boyd, Location: United Kingdom

The America’s Cup World Series coming to Portsmouth in both 2015 and 2016 is great news for sailing in the UK as well as top promotion for Ben Ainslie Racing and the prospects for Sir Ben’s British America’s Cup challenge

Portsmouth is rammed at the best of times in July. Even without an America’s Cup World Series events, there are typically 100,000 people each weekend passing through the city’s Historic Dockyard, home to Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar, HMS Victory, the navy's first iron clad battleship, HMS Warrior, and the Mary Rose, plus a further 40,000 that visit the shopping mecca of Gunwharf Quay.

The footprint of the ACWS events in Portsmouth will be significant, spanning the Team Bases located with the naval base just inland of the Historic Dockyard. When the AC45s are in the water they will be moored within a modest dock inside the Historic Dockyard, right by HMS Victory and the Mary Rose exhibit. Portsmouth City Council is looking to lay on shuttle buses to link this area with the ACWS Portsmouth village, located on the large green on the seafront at Southsea. The race village will overlook the course where the foiling AC45 will be racing, laid tight into the beach to the west of Southsea Castle. For spectators there will be a free area for public to view the racing as well as a ticketed area. It is of course also possible to walk the one from the Historic dockyard, taking in Gunwharf Quay as well as the newly finished (by then) BAR Base in Old Portsmouth. During the event there will be big screens at the key areas in Portsmouth to entice punters out to the race village in Southsea.

While each event is technically four days long, official America’s Cup World Series racing will only take place at the weekend with two races filling a 90 minute window each day – deemed to be the optimum length slot for it to be broadcast live on television.

The weekend will culminate in ‘Super Sunday Final’ which will count for extra points, says the capable Leslie Greenhalgh who has been employed as Event Director of the ACWS Portsmouth. She adds that the Friday will be used for practice racing, complete with Race Committee out on the water and courses set. Rob Andrews has been appointed Racing Director for the event.

The exact program for the Thursday has yet to be determined. “I am pushing to have some on-water activity," Leslie continues. "It might at present be as little as opening ceremony, press conference, tours of the bases and everyone having their boats ready. I did propose a round the Island, but that was to all the sailors’ horror as it could be quite challenging!”

According to Leslie the exact way the points system for the event works isn’t clear yet – it is a work in progress for the America’s Cup Event Authority, but, as specified in the 34th America’s Cup Protocol, team’s culminative score through the various ACWS events is significant as it will go towards their seeding going into the America’s Cup Challenger Play-Offs (assuming they are still happening…) in 2017.

Already announced are America’s Cup World Series events in Sweden over 28-30 August followed by what is expected to be the Cup venue itself when it is revealed next Tuesday – Bermuda – over 16-18 October. As yet unannounced is an event in Caglari being run by Luna Rossa at the end of June, with the final ACWS event possibily being held in New Zealand towards the end of the year.

The UK earned the right to host an America’s Cup World Series event thanks to BAR’s entry into the 34th America’s Cup.

According to Leslie: “Ben and Keith [Mills] discussed the opportunity and definitely thought it was in the interest of BAR to have racing in the UK, but didn’t want it to distract BAR and all its trying to achieve commercially and in terms of performance. So they decided to run it through a separate company and Keith said ‘TeamOrigin still exists - let’s run it through that.’” So TeamOrigin Events has taken on the risk of running the ACWS events in Portsmouth.

“We will work very closely with BAR in terms of the profile in the UK, but we have to deliver a world class event that is the same for all the competitors, so we’ll be putting together packages, hospitality, travel and accommodation for all of the teams – we have to provide all of the facilities that they need,” Leslie continues.

The ACWS series event in Plymouth in 2011 was run entirely by ACEA at a time when they had big bucks to spend and had for example more than 100 staff working on the television and graphics side alone. However this time ACEA has handed over the running of these events to the teams themselves. “There is no rights fee, but you have to pay for your own event,” says Leslie. However much of what has to be delivered has been specified by ACEA. “There is a contract between ACEA and BAR. So there is a fully speced media centre, space for all of the TV production. They will provide the TV production team and provide the spec for that, but we pay for that production and provide the facilities.”

However the organiser does also get the right to secure a domestic host television broadcaster. According to Leslie, Sir Keith Mills, having come fresh from spearheading the Invictus Games, is leading the charge on the TV negotiations with the aim of the racing on the Saturday and Sunday being broadcast live. “There are three facets regarding talking to broadcasters. There’s ACEA with the global TV rights, us on the event - and each individual ACWS organiser has the rights to that in their own country - and then BAR, which has its own rights for documentary series.”

For TeamOrigin Events it is in fact broader than this as they also get the rights to arrange the UK TV deal for the other ACWS events outside of the UK, and this is likely to encourage broadcasters to sign up for the whole Series. “It makes more sense to sell the whole package. On the one hand it is good if it is spread across a few broadcasters, but on the other hand the broadcasters will get more value if they can ‘own’ the whole product.”

Potentially bad news for those wishing to follow the ACWS racing from overseas, is that the focus for this ACWS - and almost certainly for the America’s Cup itself - is on traditional television broadcasters – ie don’t expect it to be broadcast live on YouTube as it was last time. Leslie says that there will be coverage on YouTube but it will be dumbed down in some way, delayed or with less information or such like.

However it seems that all of the ultra-cool and ground breaking tracking and graphics developed by Stan ‘the man’ Honey for the last America’s Cup (and specifically commissioned from the former ABN AMRO One navigator by Larry Ellison himself) will be used again. As Leslie says: “I think because we all got used to seeing that level of quality, everyone would be pretty dismayed if they didn’t see that again.”

In terms of getting the ACWS Portsmouth to clean its face financially, TeamOrigin Events is allowed to have up to four official event presenting partners, although there is the opportunity for unlimited suppliers in addition. However as the ACWS is an extension of the America’s Cup, it is not allowed to have a clash of sponsors. So, for example, if Nespresso and Red Bull sign up again as sponsors of the America’s Cup proper, then rivals will not be permitted to back the ACWS events. However, oddly, the same is not true of the challengers which can have sponsor clashes. As Leslie puts it: “If the the 35th America’s Cup was to have a car partner, we couldn’t get a conflicting car partner, but BAR could, so the teams have more free reign.”

Ex-Volvo Ocean Race Mr FixIt, Jeremy Troughton has been brought on as Operations Director and will working to encourage suppliers to come board, supplying cranes and other required facilities, etc.

While it has yet to gather momentum, there is also the beginning of co-operation between the individual organisers of the ACWS events, for example, to arrange a shipping deal that will work between all of them.

“I think it is super exciting,” Leslie continues. “Portsmouth are super keen, super supportive. They run a lot of massive events in Portsmouth, so they have a lot of really experienced people when it comes to things like policing and crowd management and transport. It is great to have that. And then there’s the Royal Navy helping on the technical and logistics side.”

Donna Jones, leader of Portsmouth City’s conservative Council, at Tuesday's press conference pointed out how her city has such a strong maritime tradition, as depicted in the Historic Dockyard exhibits and vessels. Portsmouth is also used to hosting big events, both on the national and international stage whether it is the annual Great South Run or the Tour de France which passed through Portsmouth in 1994 or Trafalgar 200 in 2005, which attracted 200,000 people to Portsmouth or this year’s D-Day 70 commemorations.

She pointed out that between the two ACWS events held in Naples over 2011 and 2012, spectator visits doubled from 500,000 to one million, while the ACWS event in Plymouth in 2011 was estimated to have brought an economic impact to the city of £9.1 million.

On Tuesday Sir Charles Dunstone was pushing the commercial side of the event. “What was quite striking in Plymouth in 2011 was that 150,000 people came to watch the racing even though there wasn’t a British team involved.

“What I get the sense that it is really starting to build now is getting the country behind Ben and behind this challenge. I think that by next July we are going to have a lot of excitement and a lot of interest and a very big following behind the team in what we are trying to achieve and the belief in our Team Principal and skipper. I think that will be absolutely enormous. And as a result there will be commercial opportunities for companies to get involved, in sponsoring, showcasing products and exhibiting what do and simply the feel good factor of being associated with such a British hero and such an extraordinary British challenge is very exciting.”

According to Leslie Greenhalgh, the organisers have also been given access during the event to Spitbank and No Mans Land Forts in the Solent – the latter to be opened as a luxury hotel next spring complete with 22 rooms, spa facilities and helipad. These will be right in the middle of the race course. “Perhaps we’ll put the press there,” she quips.

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