AMERICA'S CUP '92 : Koch Going from Cup to Coupons

On the eve of the America's Cup best-of-seven series, Bill Koch decried the cost of the competition.

Huh? Bill Koch?

This struck me as sailing's version of George Steinbrenner or Gene Autry complaining about the cost of fielding a baseball team.

Koch is right, even though he had to be $64 million wrong to figure it out.

That--$64 million, give or take a spinnaker--is what it cost Koch to mount the campaign that has placed his America 3 into position to defend the Cup on behalf of the San Diego Yacht Club beginning today.

The Italian syndicate funded by Raul Gardini, Il Moro di Venezia, has spent somewhere between $45 million and $200 million. That is a rather wide range, undoubtedly accounted for by the fluctuating value of the lire and whether or not Tom Lasorda is on his diet.

Koch has said his $64 million expenditure is equal to about 10% of his worth. It would cost a surprising number of people 10% of their net worth simply to get onto the water to watch this best-of-seven series.

Disinterested San Diegans have complained that this is a rich man's sport beyond their comprehension, and this feeling is underscored by the average cost of booking passage to the race course. The cost of seasickness is more than $150 . . . per person.

Horse racing, in contrast, is another rich man's sport, but you and I and the guy next door can buy into the action for $2 and come away feeling like winners.

No way you and I even feel a sense of involvement here. Your friendly neighborhood drapery salesman, Mr. Dennis Conner, could not even raise enough money to beat Koch's bankroll. Conner, like us, is a spectator, though I think he could find passage to the race course should he be so inclined.

The bottom line is that this is expensive for everybody.

A couple of old-time racing sailors were once said to have met a few years after one had given up the game.

"Don't you occasionally get the urge?" asked the sailor.

"Sure," said the ex-sailor, "but, when I do, I get into a shower and tear up $100 bills until it goes away."

These guys would have to tear up $1 million bills, though I could not from any personal experience tell you if there is such a denomination.

Koch himself said: "If I had known it would cost this much, there is no way in hell I would have done it."

Koch has ideas on cost cutting, of course, such as using commercial-grade carbon fiber and eliminating penalties for stability and reducing the length of the spinnaker pole. You tell me what all that means. We'll just have to take his word that they would save a lot of bucks.

Another suggestion calls for eliminating the three reaching legs, which are pleasing to the eye and advertisers because of billowing sails. His point is that the reaches rarely impact the result of the race and those billowing sails cost major bucks.

His other suggestion is that spying be eliminated, in part by stripping the skirts off the keels. Koch asking to outlaw spying is like the CIA asking to outlaw spying. He acknowledges that more than $2 million of his budget has gone into espionage. Robert Ludlum should be on his staff. Maybe he is.

Would abolishing spying eliminate spying? Fat chance. Did prohibiting booze eliminate booze? Not if you could afford it.

Excuse me, Mr. Koch, but I might be able to help you bring these costs into line. Being accustomed to functioning with a rather modest budget, I might be more reasonable. Heck, any budget at all would be more reasonable.

You made one point which made sense, which was to cut the boat length to maybe 50 feet, and then you pushed it aside by saying so many of these boats have already been constructed that it's unreasonable. Hogwash to that point. Stars & Stripes was already too old in 1992 because it was vintage 1991. Not one of these boats will be anywhere but in museums or landfills in 1995.

Yes, you were right. Make them smaller.

And make them functional.

What did Koch say Friday?

"These boats have no other use except for America's Cup events," he said. "I don't think anyone would want to cruise on them. I certainly don't."

Let the designers put together the fastest boats possible, but mandate that they must have a galley, head, at least one stateroom, a wet bar, wide screen television and a CD player. This cuts expenses because you can sell the damned things when the racing is over.

Koch, not having heard my suggestion, didn't seem too hopeful that costs could be cut.

When he talked about defending the Cup on behalf of the San Diego Yacht Club in 1995, he said: "If the yacht club wants me to defend it, I'll tell them, 'You help me raise the $64 million.' "

Fat chance, Bill. If the SDYC was going to help anyone raise $64 million, you wouldn't be the 1992 defender. Dennis Conner would.

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