POSTED: 1:18 p.m. HST, Jan 25, 2014
LAST UPDATED: 2:04 p.m. HST, Jan 25, 2014
SAN DIEGO >> The next America's Cup could be sailed off a Hawaiian beach, on San Diego Bay or in some other port instead of returning to a San Francisco Bay course bordered by the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island.
Russell Coutts, the CEO of America's Cup champion Oracle Team USA, told The Associated Press on Saturday that sailing officials are talking with other venues about hosting the 35th America's Cup in August 2017 because San Francisco officials haven't offered the same terms as they did for last summer's regatta, which ended with the American syndicate staging one of the greatest comebacks in sports.
Coutts, a five-time America's Cup winner, said he's not prepared to rule out San Francisco as host of the next regatta. "They might have a change of heart. I don't think they will but they might," Coutts said by phone from France. He is in Europe talking to potential sponsors.
Hawaii's chances of hosting the America's Cup match, a warmup regatta or perhaps an early round of challenger eliminations appear to be on the rise because of the relationship between Larry Ellison, the software billionaire who owns Oracle Team USA, and Gov. Neil Abercrombie.
Coutts said he hasn't had discussions with Abercrombie. When asked if Ellison had spoken with the governor about the America's Cup, Coutts said: "Yes, I expect that Larry has had a discussion."
Ellison, the CEO of Oracle Corp., bought 98 percent of Lanai in 2012 and has put millions of dollars into renovating two resorts there. He has plans for further development on what's also known as Pineapple Island.
Abercrombie spoke glowingly last summer about Ellison's involvement with Lanai, saying: "I can't think of anything that I've been involved with in decades, on a magnitude of this nature, that has been more pleasant and productive and cooperative than the relationship that at least we in the state have had with Mr. Ellison and his people."
An email to one of Abercrombie's press representatives seeking comment wasn't immediately returned Saturday.
Coutts stressed that no decisions have been made on a venue. He said Oracle Team USA representatives still need to visit prospective venues -- including Hawaii -- to check out potential racing sites.
After Oracle Team USA defended the America's Cup on Sept. 25 with its eighth straight win against Emirates Team New Zealand, Ellison joked that the next cup could be sailed around Lanai.
If Hawaii is chosen, a more likely spot would be off Oahu or Maui.
Dennis Conner trained in Hawaii before the 1986-87 America's Cup in Fremantle, Australia, where he won back the silver trophy that he had lost four years earlier.
That brought the oldest trophy in international sports to the San Diego Yacht Club, which hosted the America's Cup in 1988, 1992 and 1995, with racing on the Pacific Ocean off Point Loma.
If San Diego is chosen, racing would be on the bay, Coutts said.
An America's Cup World Series regatta held in 45-foot catamarans on San Diego Bay in November 2011 was considered a success.
The 2013 America's Cup was contested in 72-foot catamarans, with a crew of 11, which were expensive and hard to control. Coutts wants the next America's Cup to be sailed in 60-foot catamarans crewed by eight sailors, which would help reduce costs.
"With all of these venues, we've only just started discussions," Coutts said. "In many of the cases we haven't gotten to senior politicians and so forth. We're simply evaluating the venues before we narrow down the target to some real strong potential venues."
Asked to comment on Ellison's level of dissatisfaction with San Francisco, Coutts said the billionaire hasn't been involved with talks.
"It's safe to say I'm not happy," Coutts said. "It was a fantastic event in San Francisco. I don't think anyone disputes that. The TV images were great. But we could go to another venue and have great racing. As we've gone into the process, it's pretty evident there are some really strong venues. They might end up being better than San Francisco. Not by any means am I saying this is a bad result. This actually could turn out to be a good thing for the America's Cup."
While last summer's regatta gave the staid old America's Cup a remarkable adrenaline rush, it generated less economic impact in the Bay Area than projected and cost city taxpayers more than $5 million.
Coutts declined to be specific about why he finds San Francisco's offer unacceptable.
In an email to the AP late Friday, Gloria Chan of San Francisco's Office of Economic and Workforce Development said: "We continue to have productive discussions with the AC team about the AC35 in SF. Like the City, we know they are taking a thoughtful approach and performing due diligence on potential AC35 and AC World Series event locations."
Coutts declined to say if Newport, R.I., another former home of the America's Cup, was in consideration, but did say one non-U.S. port was in the mix. A European venue is not being considered, he said.
Coutts has said that challengers could host warmup regattas as part of the buildup to the 35th America's Cup. So far, teams are expected from Australia, New Zealand, Sweden and Italy. There could also be teams entered from Britain, France and either China or South Korea.
Oracle Team USA has spoken with Team Australia, the Challenger of Record, about split venues, meaning some early challenger eliminations might not be held in the same venue as the challenger semifinals and finals, and the America's Cup match.
It's almost certain that the rules for the next regatta will be issued before a venue is chosen, Coutts said.