Masterplan unveiled to bring America’s Cup racing back to Portsmouth

Crowds at the America's Cup World Series in Portsmouth last year
Crowds at the America's Cup World Series in Portsmouth last year

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LET’S do it all again and host another incredible America’s Cup World Series.

That’s the message from sporting leaders as they launch major efforts to bring the sailing spectacle back to Portsmouth and shine the spotlight on the city’s proud maritime heritage.

It’s important to realise, that Sir Ben Ainslie is a really exceptional sailor, he is a once in a lifetime athlete. He has built a very good team and their goal is to bring the cup back to Britain for the first time in hundreds of years – which would be fantastic.

Portsmouth Tory culture boss, Councillor Linda Symes

It’s been triggered by a new deal signed by organisers to hold the America’s Cup finals biannually instead of every four years, following this year’s main racing in Bermuda, in a major shake-up of the historic competition.

The move, endorsed by Olympian Sir Ben Ainslie and his Portsmouth-based Land Rover BAR team, is part of efforts to keep interest high and pull more cash and supporters into the sport.

It means 12 locations around the world will be picked in the coming months to stage World Series qualifying races in the lead-up to the 36th America’s Cup final, to now be held in 2019 rather than 2021.

And as part of efforts to ensure Portsmouth is chosen as a host nation, The News can reveal BAR executives are scouting for wealthy stakeholders to bankroll another round of elite racing in the Solent complete with a family festival.

The city’s 2015 and 2016 regattas, won by Sir Ben’s challengers, raked in £15.6m for the economy and pulled in hundreds of thousands of visitors who came to cheer on the home side over both years.

Martin Whitmarsh, Land Rover BAR chief executive officer, said: ‘It’s down to us to make this happen. We want it to happen and to build something which will go on to be an annual event.

‘Even if we are not the next America’s Cup defender, we want to make the events even better; build support and loyalty for the team and make this something firmly fixed in the family diary, so they think; “we had that fantastic year, let’s go back again”.

It’s understood that Sir Keith Mills, the mastermind of the 2012 Olympic Games and the chief financial backer of the city’s previous World Series events, no longer wants to solely fund another version, so BAR officials are desperate to ensure a fresh team of backers come on board to fulfil ambitions.

Meetings have already been held with Portsmouth City Council and the Royal Navy over the role they can play and whether they can help facilitate aspects of the event – including the storage of competitor boats.

Those plans would accelerate should Sir Ben win this summer’s America’s Cup finals in Bermuda, as he would get the option of bringing the finals to Portsmouth in 2019 and the need for a world-class spectacle would be even greater.

Mr Whitmarsh said: ‘The challenge between Portsmouth and the team, is “how do we make all of these things happen?”; and clearly these things cost money.

‘That’s something we are talking to the council about, so we can work out between us, what resources are available, and how do we work it up and fund it.

‘We have a great place to race, in the form of the Solent, and we got a great place for people to view it from.

‘There’s a challenge in the technical area because we are expecting more teams, and moving towards bigger, competitive boats that need more space.’

Asked about Sir Keith’s involvement in a future Portsmouth World Series, Mr Whitmarsh said: ‘My understanding is, Sir Keith is very enthusiastic about these things, but he doesn’t want to personally fund it any more.

‘We are indebted to his team and his organisation, for making financial contributions, but with any sustainable sporting event, it has to find more stakeholders to continue taking it forward.’

Portsmouth Tory culture boss, Cllr Linda Symes, said it was a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ opportunity for the region.

She said: ‘It’s important to realise, that Sir Ben Ainslie is a really exceptional sailor, he is a once-in-a-lifetime athlete.

‘He has built a very good team and their goal is to bring the cup back to Britain for the first time in hundreds of years – which would be fantastic.

‘So we would love to see the World Series come back here, as well as the finals should Sir Ben win in Bermuda.’

America’s Cup World Series event director, Leslie Greenhalgh, said plans were moving forward.

She said: ‘There are opportunities for future ACWS events – probably in 2018 – and obviously the chance to host should Land Rover BAR win it. These events cost money as we all know, and therefore we need to source funding for events to cover costs – especially an America’s Cup – for example.

‘Bermuda paid US$77m to host this next event in 2017.

‘Like most major sporting events, funding comes from a variety of sources – sponsors, host cities/governments, TV rights, ticket sales – so we need to start work now on how we can work in association with Portsmouth City Council and other venues to ensure we can source the right facilities to host such future events.’