Tech billionaire Larry Ellison answers America’s Cup criticism

Oracle Chief Executive Larry Ellison says he has attempted to make the America's Cup race more modern and exciting.
(Eric Risberg / Associated Press)

Oracle Chief Executive Larry Ellison hasn’t spent much time around the media during the run-up to the 2013 America’s Cup final -- his boat is the defending champ -- but the tech billionaire spoke up this week, discussing changes to the traditional race and the accident that killed British sailor Andrew “Bart” Simpson.

The Cup holder gets to dictate the parameters of the next race. As owner of Oracle Team USA, Ellison decided to hold it in San Francisco Bay instead of open sea. He also selected the AC72 catamaran, a boat that some believe is too expensive and dangerous.

“We’ve got to make our sport exciting,” Ellison told “CBS This Morning.” “And we’ve got to modernize it. I mean, it can’t be unchanged since 1851.”


During a training run on May 9, the Artemis Racing boat from Sweden capsized. Ellison provided some details about the accident and Simpson’s death.

“There was actually a structural failure on the boat,” he said. “The boat flipped over and Bart Simpson was actually trapped between the two hulls. And we couldn’t find him for seven minutes. So we had -- we had divers in the water 30 seconds after that boat flipped over. We’ve taken, you know, lots of safety precautions.”

Ellison said he was shaken by the incident.

“Oh, yeah. I mean, it’s -- we decided to make this an extreme sport, to make it exciting,” he said. “We certainly never intended anyone to be hurt.”

The team owner also addressed widespread criticism from people who worry that his changes have cheapened the race’s storied reputation. Ellison cited the Olympics, which have attempted to attract a younger audience with sports such as snowboarding.

“I think to make this sport an economically viable sport, we have to have fast, modern boats,” he said. “It has to be a popular TV sport. It has to be attractive to kids.”

However, Ellison did suggest that if Oracle Team USA retains the championship, he might choose to race the smaller, less-expensive and potentially safer AC45 catamarans next time around.

The America’s Cup has reached the challenger finals, pitting Luna Rossa Challenge from Italy against Emirates Team New Zealand. The winner will face Oracle in September.


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