The America's Cup - A Sport for Billionaires

In 1977, one of the United States' richest playboy media moguls, Ted Turner, took command of a sailing yacht. The millionaire, famous for starting CNN and TBS in the U.S., commanded 'Courageous', a 12-metre racing yacht. Turner may have been famous for his work in media, but the Ohio native was an adventurer; and was the Richard Branson of the 1970s.

Ted Turner Photo: John Mathew Smith

Turner commanded 'Courageous' during the 1977 America’s Cup race, leading the yacht to one of the biggest underdog victories in the event’s history. 'Courageous' defeated Australia’s challenger, 'Australia', securing four points from four regattas. The win came just three years after Turner’s previous America’s Cup attempt. In 1974, Turner lost the defender trials ending his initial fight for the famous yachting trophy.

The 1977 event etched the Turner and America’s Cup into pop culture history in the U.S. Before the media mogul commanded 'Courageous' to an unlikely victory, the America’s Cup had been a sporting event contested and followed by mostly wealthy individuals. It was a sport exclusive to individuals with financial security and the ability to assemble a team of sailors and an expensive racing yacht.

Turner’s win is mostly forgotten today, more than 40 years later. Yet, one thing that remained was the America’s Cup and the individuals competing for the most prestigious trophy in yacht racing.

What is the America’s Cup?

The oldest sporting trophy in the world

The America’s Cup was formed in 1851, making it the world’s oldest international sporting competition still operating. One of the many unique aspects of the America’s Cup is that there is no fixed schedule for the event. While sporting events like the Olympics or the FIFA World Cup take place every four years, the America’s Cup doesn’t have a set time. For the most part, the America’s Cup occurs every three to four years.

The regattas or matches take place between two sailing yachts. One of the yachts will come from the yacht club of the current trophy holder. This entrant is known as the defender. The opposing yacht will come from a different club from somewhere in the world. This yacht is known as the challenger.

The yacht teams will compete over multiple regattas. The team with the most wins from their series of races will be crowned the America’s Cup champion. The Auld Mug is handed out to the winner of the America’s Cup. The Auld Mug is the biggest trophy in the sport of sailing and is the most sought-after piece of silverware by yacht captains worldwide.

The winner of the 'Auld Mug' becomes the steward of the trophy. Therefore, the most recent winner of the 'Auld Mug' assumes ownership of it until they are challenged and lose the America’s Cup race. Every time the America’s Cup is defended, the two parties (defender and challenger) must agree on a location, date, and boat type. The negotiations for the America’s Cup race are akin to a business deal between wealthy individuals. The process has become a sort of tradition for the defender and challenger. It helps make the America’s Cup one of the most unique sporting events in the world.

A sport for the wealthy

The Yacht 'America'

The first America’s Cup race took place in 1851, as two teams sailed around the Isle of Wight. A team representing the New York Yacht Club made up of wealthy businessmen defeated a group of 15 yachts sailing for the British Royal Squadron. The event was so high-profile that Queen Victoria attended.

Since the debut of the America’s Cup race in the mid-1800s, the sport of yacht racing has attracted some of the wealthiest people in the world. Turner’s entrance into the sport in the 1970s marked just one time a self-made entrepreneur participated in the America’s Cup.

Today, the sport sees a variety of individuals take part in the regattas. Silicon Valley tech wizards, royal family members, and plenty of old-money individuals are a part of the teams or owners that participate in the America’s Cup.

The America’s Cup can be an addiction for many. Men and women have spent decades chasing the dragon, attempting to win the prestigious Auld Mug only to go without winning it. Many of the people that give into the temptation of racing spend years battling for the small trophy.

Entrepreneurs have control of aspects of their lives and businesses. Yet, yacht racing is not under their control. The races are down to the winds, the speed of the boat, and the skills of the crew. It is a reason so many wealthy people flock to the sport of yacht racing – its unpredictability.

Scotland’s Thomas Lipton, the founder of the Lipton Tea Company, challenged for the Auld Mug on five occasions. From 1899 to 1930, Lipton attempted to win the America’s Cup aboard the Shamrock. Despite battling five times for the trophy, Lipton never won it, fuelling his desire to win it even more.

Who is the most successful America’s Cup team?

The New York Yacht Club, the winners of the original America’s Cup in 1851, are the most successful sailing team in the competition’s history. The yacht club, which can trace its history back to 1844, has won the competition 25 times. The New York Yacht Club lost just one time in its history of competing in the America’s Cup.

The New York Yacht Club’s only loss came in 1983 against Australia II. The race occurred off the coast of Newport, Rhode Island. The win made headlines around the world, and overnight, Australia II’s crew became pop culture celebrities down under.

Since losing the 1983 America’s Cup, the New York Yacht Club has not regained the trophy. The club’s dominance ended against Australia II, and the Auld Mug has been passed around to teams from Italy, Switzerland, Australia, California, and New Zealand. The most recent America’s Cup was held in 2021, as New Zealand’s Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron won the trophy. The Kiwis have won four America’s Cup trophies.

When is the next America’s Cup?

The next America’s Cup will be held in Barcelona in 2024. The America’s Cup Barcelona will be the 37th in the trophy’s history. The event will start in August and conclude in October.

America's Cup 37 - Photo:

Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia and one of the most vibrant cities in the world. Barcelona attracts over 27 million visitors per year. It is a city that welcomes wealthy individuals thanks to its luxury living spaces, hotels, restaurants, and shopping. Barcelona is the ideal location for the America’s Cup 2024, as hundreds of yacht racing fans will descend on the city to watch the race.

Take a private jet to the America’s Cup in Barcelona

America’s Cup fans can jump on a luxury charter flight and fly into Barcelona’s Josep Tarradellas Barcelona El Prat airport, the second-busiest airport in Spain. A luxury charter flight will have America’s Cup fans in the city in no time and ready to enjoy the fast-paced action.

The America’s Cup is a rich person’s sport. Over the years, some yacht clubs have made attempts to lower the cost of competition and decrease the size of the vessels. However, the America’s Cup is one of the few competitions designed for those individuals of a certain financial status. The America’s Cup is like polo and Formula One racing. It is a sport that appeals to many but can only be played by a select few due to the price of entry. It remains a great sporting event regardless of its exclusivity.