Boat Boondoggle: “I was played” by America’s Cup

America's Cup 7
This week in the Bay Area, it’s America’s Cup – boat racing for rich people. Oracle Team USA is on the verge of losing to “plucky” Team New Zealand by a whopping 10 races. Odd that AP would use a condescending term like “plucky” to describe a team that’s pretty much dominating the Team USA, but that’s geopolitics for you.

You may be wondering why people even care. How America’s Cup turned into a real sports event is covered in this history of cable TV sports mega-network ESPN. Basically some savvy media exec’s found a way to dramatize an otherwise staid event, an interesting prelude sports coverage today. And in just another small footnote in the history of bad sports deals for cities, San Francisco could be on the hook for millions. So bad of a deal in fact, that SF Supervisor John Avalos offered this extraordinary mea culpa:

I was fucking played. All the members of the Board of Supervisors were fucking played…There was a full-court press on us from the America’s Cup Organizing Committee to play us. Gavin Newsom, David Chiu, Ross Mirkarimi — everyone was exuberant and this is what we get. I am totally fucking ashamed.

Compounding the problems, the  America’s Cup organizers can’t even put on a decent race. Teams pulled out after a Olympic gold medalist was killed in an accident, and now there’s only two teams competing. This has caused some writers to compare the America’s Cup to a “death-race.”  Even more embarrassingly, mastermind and rich dude Larry Ellison’s Oracle Team USA got caught cheating.

And it really could be worse. Ellison’s original plans had San Francisco on the hook for a whopping $136 million. Thankfully that deal fell through, leading a deal opponent and SF politico to say:

“In the beginning, the America’s Cup and Larry Ellison tried to shoot the moon and stars. Later on, it was just the moon. Now they’re just getting a good deal,” he says. “Ellison is still not paying his fair share. I think he should be doing what Warren Hellman did. He said ‘Help me with my permits in Golden Gate Park and I’ll put on a show that’ll bring tens of millions in revenue to the city and I’ll pay for everything.’ But Larry Ellison is no Warren Hellman.

“This is probably as good as this bad deal gets.”

The final cost to the city? The “private donors” Ellison sought to fill the event’s deficit fell through, leaving the city with a $7 million bill.


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