I was granted an interview this week with Craig Thompson, chief executive of the America's Cup Event Authority (ACEA), which is overseeing the 34th America's Cup, to be sailed in San Francisco Bay in August 2013.
Thompson, a Newport Beach resident, was born in Pasadena in 1949. He has worked his way up the sports marketing ladder. He was director of volleyball for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and launched the first World Beach Volleyball championships in Rio de Janeiro in 1986.
He has also worked in Switzerland for the International Equestrian Federation, and then spent four years with the track and field division of the International Assn. of Athletics Federations, where he contributed to the marketing strategy, TV and sponsorship sales, as well as management of all major IAAF events worldwide. Thompson is best known for his marketing campaigns for the UEFA Champions League.
ACEA's chief executive is responsible for branding, venues, facilities, sponsorships and commercial partners, and the television programming.
Here's my interview with Thompson:
Question: Welcome to town. I noticed you moved in a little more than a year ago. How did you come about selecting Newport Beach as your primary residence?
Answer: I grew up in Santa Ana and then moved to Newport Beach after I graduated [from] UCLA, so I already had the pleasure of living in the area. Then after 25 years living and working in Europe, my wife and I decided to move back to Newport Beach, where our extended families now live.
Q: Do you have time to use our harbor?
A: I have a great love and respect for the water, so one of my focuses for the 34th America's Cup has been the creation of a comprehensive sustainability program that can benefit all of the world's oceans, not just bodies of water near our host cities. I'm excited to engage people around the world in ocean conservation and share how we can all make a positive impact so our oceans and marine life flourish once again.
Q: I understand [billionaire Larry] Ellison has set a mandate to bring younger people to the sport of sailing. Will we see members of the America's Cup Teams visit our junior programs or possibly receive local media attention? For example, the NFL reporting on junior football programs from around the country?
A: Youth are the future of our sport, so you will see a number of different ways we'll be interacting with children. For example, we plan to introduce a Youth America's Cup to create a clear career pathway to sailing in the America's Cup. We are working on finalizing the details now for a 2012 introduction, but the concept is to utilize the AC45 boats working with countries around the globe.
Q: How do you plan to obtain the attention of the non-sailor during the next few years?
A: Great question. One of main goals is broadening our audience. There are a number of things that we're changing to make the America's Cup and sailing itself more accessible. We'll have new boats, new courses, new rules, new formats that can be more readily packaged for TV, plus more racing through our America's Cup World Series. And we're transforming the viewing experience through our onboard cameras, an interactive website and a whole new social media experience. I believe viewers will get to see that these sailors aren't just the top sailors, but the true athletes that they are.
Q: I still purchase Bud Light because of the "Bud Cam" on Stars and Stripes sailing in Fremantle, [Australia]. Can you tell us about some of the new innovations or camera angles we will see onboard in this America's Cup?
A: For the first time, we'll have cameramen onboard, so fans will get to see the racing close-up for the first time. You will get to see the quick decisions as they are made, the extreme athleticism needed to handle these boats. You will feel like you are right there with them.
Q: In 1977, it was Ted Turner and his locomotive cap, 1983 […] Australia's wing keel, 1987 […] The Fremantle Doctor, and in 2010 it was Attorneys and a Wing Sail. What will 2013 be remembered for?
A: I think the 34th America's Cup will be remembered for a number of things, but one thing in particular will be some pretty extreme racing, and I don't mean just a drag race. To create a race that puts a premium on tactics, crew work and maneuvering, the America's Cup Race Management team has taken two steps. First, they've instituted a design rule that helps ensure all of the boats are about the same speed. This means that no boat can win just by speed alone. Second, they are introducing boundaries on the course to prevent large separations between boats. This move will force boats to engage with each other, creating really close racing situations. Multi-hulls are very fast boats and will therefore reach the course boundaries sooner, so races will become a true test of skill and strategy, not just speed.
Q: What can the club sailor do to help you popularize our sport?
A: One of the greatest things about sailing is that you participate in the sport whether you are 8 or 80. With the focus we're placing on the fan experience, I think the next America's Cup will open the eyes of many more people to sailing. What we can all do is to welcome our non-sailing friends to the sport — get them out onto the Bay and allow them to experience the wonder of cutting through the wind and waves. Give children the access to sailing — invite them to crew or take a turn at the helm. And, most importantly, we all need to work together to protect our oceans so we can all continue to enjoy them for generations to come.
LEN BOSE is an experienced boater, yacht broker and boating columnist.