22 Jun 2017

America's Cup no-show prompts battle of the fans theory

10:01 am on 22 June 2017

First Person - Mystery surrounds the disappearance of a crowd-pleasing piece of show business in the America's Cup village in Bermuda.

The pre-race dock-out show brings the teams through a phalanx of flag-waving fans and onto a stage, where the helmsmen make brief comments and are cheered on their way as they head for their boats.

Team New Zealand fans cluster in front of the dockout show stage,

Team New Zealand fans cluster in front of the dock-out show stage during the challenger series. Photo: RNZ / Todd Niall

According to one theory, the number and enthusiasm of Team New Zealand supporters might be behind its axing.

The show was a daily feature of the 2013 Cup Final in San Francisco, where despite being on hometown soil, Oracle Team USA at best held their own in the battle of flag-waving fans.

And Oracle's event arm, the America's Cup Event Authority (ACEA), made the shows a weekend feature of the challenger series, where Team New Zealand and Artemis led the fanfare.

At one of the shows, shortly before the first race in the challenger finals against Sweden's Artemis, helmsman Peter Burling said Team New Zealand was "incredibly lucky to have such incredible fans, and the amount of them".

Then came the opening weekend of the America's Cup Match itself. Nothing.

The boats slipped away at 1.15pm - Oracle from its secure base away from the public area, with a hardcore group of fans cheering. Team New Zealand had been allocated a base, perceived as undesirable, right in the Cup village. But while there was no chance for secrecy, the location was ideal for a big turnout of black-clad fans.

So what happened to the show? I asked America's Cup Event Authority staff in the media centre. I got a smile and was referred upwards.

I emailed Tom Webb, communications manager for the Oracle-owned outfit:

"What happened to the weekend dock-out show, will it be back?"

Simple answer: "We don't have any plans to bring it back at the moment."

At Team New Zealand I got a knowing grin - that can't-you-guess grin. They were happy to do it.

Team New Zealand walks into the Cup Final dockout show in San Francisco in 2013

Team New Zealand walks into the Cup final dock-out show in San Francisco in 2013 Photo: RNZ / Todd Niall

Oracle has made itself the Bermuda home team. It's been here the longest, it's sold the most shirts, and until recent newspaper reports most locals mistakenly thought that if Oracle Team USA won, the next cup would be held in Bermuda.

Actually, all the team gets is first dibs on bidding for the next Cup.

But Oracle isn't winning the flag-waving hollering fan war. And it seems plausible they don't want to be seen publicly to drown in a chant of "Kiwi! Kiwi!" on their home patch on race days.

I asked the two helmsman at the media conference ending Oracle Team USA's losing weekend whether they'd like the dock-out show back.

"We get a great turn-up at our base, over this weekend it's been fantastic, all the supporters on the water, there a lot of American flags, Oracle Team USA flags out there for us," said Oracle's Jimmy Spithill.

"We're happy, wherever we go there's supporters and we really appreciate it."

"For us at Team New Zealand we get an amazing reception as we walk out to the boat, and physically do dock out," said helmsman Peter Burling.

"It's not for me to say at all whether we should be up on stage, but we really appreciate the fans that have made the trip and are cheering for us here."

This weekend will be the last chance for Oracle's event arm to let the fans decide who has the biggest Bermuda fan army.

The Cup Match will run daily into next week, until one team scores seven points. So far, it's 3-0 to Team New Zealand.

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