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Sailing: Winds of change for America's Cup in Bermuda Triangle

HAMILTON, Bermuda (Reuters) - Mystery surrounds what next for the America’s Cup if New Zealand win sailing’s most prestigious prize in Bermuda next week.

Emirates Team New Zealand competes against Oracle Team USA in Race four of America's Cup Finals. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Emirates Team New Zealand are seeking to wrest the cup from holders Oracle Team USA and with it the rights to decide when the event is next held, its timing and the type of boats used.

This is all dictated by the ancient “Deed of Gift” which stipulates the trophy first won in 1851 by the U.S. schooner “America” was to be “a perpetual challenge cup for friendly competition between nations” and allows the winner to take all.

However, the history of the cup has been anything but friendly at times, riddled with costly legal feuds, bitter personal battles and a stop-start reputation which has made it hard to attract tens of millions of dollars needed in sponsorship and broadcasters willing to pay for rights.

“From a sponsor’s perspective, you don’t have any certainty at all ... the defender decides virtually everything,” Jaguar Land Rover’s [TAMOJL.UL] Experiential Marketing Director Mark Cameron said on Friday of the firm’s support for Britain’s Land Rover BAR team, led by British sailor Ben Ainslie.

That could all change if the U.S. holders are able to turn around a 3-0 Kiwi lead in the first-to-seven competition on Bermuda’s Great Sound when racing resumes this weekend.

The team led by Oracle boss Larry Ellison signed up to a “framework agreement” with four of the other challengers this year which would mean the cup being held every two years in foiling catamarans as in Bermuda and a series of match races along the lines of Formula One around the world.

This would please many sponsors, but not everyone liked the idea with some saying it was not true to the spirit of the cup and New Zealand boycotted the agreement.

The New Zealand camp have not said so far what they will do if they win the cup back.


Bermuda offered big financial incentives to have the America’s Cup held on the small mid-Atlantic island and is keen to make sure that it gets repeat business.

Painted on bus shelters along the island’s narrow, winding roads is the official slogan “America’s Cup, Bermuda’s Legacy, Our Moment”, with posters depicting a smiling boy from the island saying “America’s Cup is Zico’s Cup”.

But not everyone agrees, with “America’s Cup is Larry’s (Ellison’s) Cup” in graffiti on one bus stop.

If the U.S. team manage to keep the cup, there is speculation among other teams that the 36th edition could end up in Chicago rather than Bermuda, with races in places including Britain, France, Japan and Sweden.

But if the Kiwis win, the expectation is that it will move to Auckland, although there are also some suggestions that it could also be held in Dubai, where the main New Zealand sponsor Emirates Airline [EMIRA.UL] is based.

While an Auckland cup would be more expensive for some sponsors and create challenges for televising the event in some countries, sponsors such as Land Rover which supports Britain’s BAR team do not see it as a deal breaker.

“We are clear that we want to compete in the next America’s Cup,” Land Rover’s Cameron said, adding that his preference was for it to be governed by the framework agreement, with an established class of boats and a “World Series” racing circuit.

“We would have to see the details ... but on the basis of location its not a game changer. We would be competing in Auckland,” Cameron told Reuters by telephone.

Editing by Ed Osmond