By Alexander Smith
LONDON (Reuters) - America's Cup teams have agreed a new framework for sport's oldest trophy which aims to make it easier to meet the multi-million dollar costs of hi-tech boats, raise sponsorship and give clarity for sailors, fans and broadcasters.
It will determine the format of the next two America's Cup cycles, its protocols and its class rules. But in keeping with the tradition of the 166-year-old event, whichever team wins in Bermuda in June will decide where the next one is held.
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Five of the six teams competing for the 35th America's Cup came together in London on Wednesday to back the deal, which has taken the sailors more than a year to thrash out in a rare spirit of co-operation for the competing teams.
"As much as we want to kill each other when we go on the water, its good to see we can come together and be logical and have a common sense approach," Jimmy Spithill, Oracle Team USA's skipper, told Reuters.
The notable absence at the headquarters of jewelry maker House of Garrard, whose craftsmen made the America's Cup trophy in 1848, was Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ) which said it would prefer to stick with the previous arrangements.
Until now the winning yacht club and its team have become the event's trustees, responsible for outlining the terms of the next edition. This often ended in long pauses and resulted in lengthy and costly legal battles but ETNZ do not want changes.
"Emirates Team NZ believe the future America’s Cup format is to be decided by the Defender and Challenger of Record as it has historically been," they said in a statement to Reuters.
ETNZ skipper Glenn Ashby had expressed misgivings in July about signing up to what was then still only a proposal, saying the team was concerned about the restrictions it could impose.
"In many ways as a commercial team this is something one would have thought they (ETNZ) would wholeheartedly support because it's laying the foundations for the commercial teams of the future," Land Rover BAR skipper Ben Ainslie told Reuters.
Ainslie, along with the other skippers behind the new plan for the Cup, was optimistic ETNZ will come on board.
However, if ETNZ does not sign up to the deal and wins this year's Cup, they would then be in the driving seat, potentially throwing the new accord into doubt.
A shift to super-fast "foiling" catamarans has transformed the America's Cup, which was last won by Larry Ellison's Oracle Team USA in a dramatic head-to head finale with ETNZ in San Francisco Bay in 2013.
"It's now an extreme sport. The dynamic is completely different but its opened up a new audience. All the good points of the past are amplified now," Dean Barker, skipper of SoftBank Team Japan and formerly of ETNZ, told Reuters.
The agreement signed by defender Oracle Team USA, Artemis Racing, Team France, Land Rover BAR and SoftBank Team Japan and their respective yacht clubs marks a major shift for the "Auld Mug", which is governed by a Deed of Gift.
The target cost to field a competitive new team would now be $30 million to $40 million, a significant reduction from existing budgets and the Cup will be contested on a two-yearly cycle, with build-up races in 10 or so venues around the world in order to attract the largest possible audiences.
Land Rover BAR, which was set up by Briton Ainslie, has spent more than 80 million pounds ($101 million) on setting up a team and base in Portsmouth.
(Editing by Ken Ferris and Ed Osmond)