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  1. Wealth
September 11, 2013

Want to enter the America’s Cup? Only billionaires need apply

By Spear's

The cost of building and employing a team is estimated at $100 million

Known as the oldest trophy in sport, the America’s Cup not only requires a specific breed of sportsman but a specific breed of billionaire. The price of winning does not come higher.

A prestigious sailing competition in which the previous winner gets to set the yacht-design rules for the next edition, the America’s Cup requires a patron willing to pour significant wealth into designing, building, manning and racing their entrant. This year, three yachts are competing to be in the final series of races in San Francisco against Larry Ellison’s Oracle Team USA.

Described as ‘the fastest, most efficient boat ever made’ by skipper Iain Percy, the AC72 catamaran Ellison has selected does not so much ride the waves as fly over them. Their ability to utilise the wind to such an extent means these $10 million carbon fibre frames can reach speeds of 50mph using masts up to 40 metres high.

The sail is described as a wing that allows the boat to lift out of the water and ride above it, a one-square-metre curved dagger board its only contact with the water. For anyone who has suffered the sloshy wet ropes and vicious booms of dingy sailing, this is the equivalent of space travel.

And that comes at a price. Last week I wrote about Gareth Bale’s £85 million transfer to Real Madrid representing the power of the free market. If competition needed a bigger champion it has found it in the cut of these jibs.

Footing the bill

The cost of building and employing a team is estimated at $100 million. Given the amount of research and testing required to gain an edge within the boat specifications and the seven-figure salaries top yachtsmen such as Sir Russell Coutts attract, that estimate is conservative.

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The cost means three out of this year’s four teams have billionaire patrons: tech magnate Ellison, energy baron Torbjörn Törnqvist (who is funding Artemis) and Prada’s Patrizio Bertelli (funding Luna Rossa). Emirates Team New Zealand relies on heavy state funding for their bid. That hasn’t hampered their chances, however, as they currently lead 3-1 in the final showdown.

The power of competition is intoxicating and such fierce racing has seen marks overstepped. Team Oracle has been fined two points for illegally altering their boat, meaning they now need to win eleven of the seventeen races.

The America’s Cup is feted as the hardest trophy to win in sport and famously has no second place. The cost of challenging is phenomenal and while we celebrate the innovation and ambition rendered in these boats we should also remember the raw drive to win that built them. As with the free market, in the right place it can have astonishing results.


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