America's Cup officials are touting their yet-to-announced television package with ESPN and foreign companies as the best in the event's history, and if sheer volume is a guide, they are probably right.
Starting next year and culminating at the Cup finals in May, 1992, there will be no fewer than 30 one-hour and half-hour broadcasts of the races and competitors. And that doesn't include live coverage of the most important races, including semifinals and finals.
The America's Cup Organizing Committee expects to receive about $9.3 million for selling the broadcast rights to sailing's most famous regatta, which will be held in the waters off San Diego. It expects to net about $5 million.
In a few days, the committee expects to announce its agreement with ESPN for American rights, which will provide about two-thirds of the expected television revenue.
The ESPN contract is now under final review by lawyers, according to the ACOC.
In a surprise, the America's Cup Organizing Committee--in conjunction with the Cup challengers--has decided to produce the broadcasts, providing the array of on-water cameras, technical equipment and personnel necessary to show the competition to the world.
The television feed will be picked up by ESPN and foreign television companies, who will in turn provide their own editing, refinements and commentators. The ACOC's production cost is estimated at $4.6 million, about $1 million less than what ESPN said it would cost them to do the work.
The organizing committee took on the task because it believes it can do it cheaper, saving itself the nearly $1 million while also maintaining quality control. ACOC officials said they envision having as many as four cameras on a yacht.
Helping lead the ACOC through the television thicket is Tom Mitchell, a former television news executive at San Diego's KNSD (Channel 39) who has been a top official at the ACOC since 1988.
"There's no doubt it will be the best coverage ever . . . it'll be triple the coverage that was in Australia (in 1987, when Dennis Conner regained the Cup for the San Diego Yacht Club)," Mitchell said.
While details of the television contract haven't been announced, the ACOC gave a hint of what it expects in budget documents it gave this week to the San Diego Unified Port District, which the ACOC has asked for $10 million.
According to the documents, ESPN is expected to televise 12 one-hour America's Cup broadcasts next year, along with first-time live coverage of next May's world trials of the new America's Cup-class yachts in San Diego.
In 1992, when the regatta will run from January to May, the sports network is expected to broadcast 18 half-hour programs, followed by live coverage of round-robin and semifinal races as well as live coverage of the finals between a American defender and a foreign challenger.