Bill Koch has some ideas about how to improve the America's Cup.
Oops! Say those last two words and everybody nods off.
That's the problem. Few in this country spend much time thinking about it, but Koch has. Bright man. Three degrees from MIT. Great art collection. When Koch talks, people should listen.
Trouble is, Koch is a far better scientist--even a better sailor--than he is a salesman. So when he tried to pitch members of the San Diego Yacht Club last week on how he thinks the Cup should be run, they didn't hear so much what he said as how he said it.
Koch's suggestions included running the event every two years, shortening it to two months (from 4 1/2) and renting rights to the venue for $2 million to any other U.S. club that won. The first two ideas are shared by many. It's the last one that San Diego isn't buying.
Koch dangled a million-dollar carrot. As long as the Cup stayed in the United States, San Diego could count on that much each year to fund its junior sailing program and maybe a swell barbecue or two.
Heck of an idea. Better than losing $5 million, which is what the Cup lost last year, although the club got away clean, having handed off financial responsibility to the America's Cup Organizing Committee, whose phone was disconnected about five minutes after the event ended.
As it stands, any American syndicate will simply be defending the Cup for the San Diego Yacht Club, as they defended it for the New York Yacht Club for the first 132 years.
Most American sailors agree that the best thing that ever happened to the Cup was in '83 when Alan Bond's Australia II boat won it. That not only broke New York's stranglehold on sailing's top prize but piqued national interest when the United States sent six boats to Australia in 1986-87 and eventually won the Cup back.
Then, after Dennis Conner won it for San Diego, everybody went back to sleep. No outsider except Koch had the desire and the money to defend for San Diego.
Koch's plan could be the answer. Last week he took about two hours explaining it to the San Diego members.
Although the Cup has fallen far short of the riches San Diego imagined, giving up the venue at any price figured to be a tough sell; and Koch didn't sell it very well, despite enough charts and graphs to make Ross Perot envious.
Instead of turning on the charm, he reverted to whining about how nobody gave him a chance to win the Cup and how little San Diego appreciated him when he did. For San Diego, the response had to be: I remember this guy--Admiral Arrogance.
Koch came across as saying he would come back only on his terms. A consensus of opinion sampled from club leaders was: OK, we don't need Koch. After all, we have the Cup.
Some won't even acknowledge that the Cup would now reside in Venice if it had been left to Conner to defend against Italy's Il Moro di Venezia. The feeling is that Conner did better against Koch in the defender finals (losing, 7-4) than the Italians did in the Cup match (losing, 4-1).
Still . . . it's worth a try, and what does San Diego have to lose? In fact, as Koch points out, expanding the defense competition would only strengthen the effort and boost San Diego's chance of keeping the trophy.
Inter-city competition in the defense trials, as in professional team sports, would regenerate American interest and stimulate fund-raising.
The way it is, there not only is little incentive for other U.S. clubs to compete, there is a disincentive. They root for San Diego to lose so they can have a crack at it. Why did clubs from San Francisco, New York, Chicago and Newport Beach go halfway around the world in '87 but didn't go to San Diego in '92?
San Diego will be self-serving and shortsighted if it doesn't at least consider the idea, even if it did come from Koch.